Alongside a look forward to the trends coming up in 2023 for the PR and comms industry, we asked our experts what the biggest challenges were for the sector this year.
Read on for insight from Rachel Roberts, Stephen Waddington, Laura Sutherland, Barbara Phillips and more.
As economics fluctuated, the ‘people factor’ took a toll
‘Irrespective of many political, economic, social and tech factors which have triggered curveballs for us as comms and PR consultants to navigate through, the people factor is constant, said Rachel Roberts, CIPR president and Spottydog Communications founder.
‘Whether the market is in growth or detraction, we’re an industry of people not machines, so ensuring we have the right people to deliver against fluctuating client commitments has been difficult.
‘A surge in growth meant the summer saw a lot of people making the move to where the grass may have seemed greener. Carrots were dangled by employers in order to entice new team members to make a move, which coupled with the rising cost of living has meant some in our industry have benefitted from a decent salary swing, but this hasn’t been the case over in the public sector where there is less agility to review salary levels.
‘The cooling down of the economy has bought some of the runaway people costs back into more sustainable territory, but organisations that took on big increases in operating costs in 2023 may have a challenging time squaring the circle if facing budget squeezes due to a reduction in funding or client activity.’
Wadds Inc’s Stephen Waddington found the same: ‘Managing talent was a challenge. There’s been a shortage at mid-level created by the pandemic. This factor, combined with inflation and Brexit have created a bubble of promotions, pay increases and job moves. The economy will deflate this in the first half of 2023’.
With instability came a greater focus on integrity
‘On top of that there has been a lot of chopping and changing of jobs which has seen some instability in teams.
‘Having judged a number of awards again this year, we continue to face a challenge when it comes to strategy and measurement; two crucial elements to demonstrate the value of our work and again, very disappointed in the ‘add-on’ approach many continue to take.
‘Then there’s ESG (Environment Social and Governance), an area which I largely focus. Greenwashing is rife and we now have the regulations coming in to help combat this. Organisations continue to try to do ‘things’ but unless ESG is integrated at the heart of the organisation and the ‘S’ and the ‘G’ are seen as equally, if not more, important than the ‘E’, we’ll continue to do things that don’t have the impact they should and could. It’s absolutely our role to advise our organisations, businesses and clients on this and public relations and communication professionals need to add this to their list of priority learning areas for 2023, if they haven’t already.’
Earnest intentions were not enough on inclusion
‘With that particular lens, I would say the continued lack of meaningful (as opposed to performative) action in this space was and continues to be a challenge. I have judged a couple of awards this year (thanks for including me) where very little had changed in organisations from the year before. And although the entries were very earnest in their intent, a couple were just that; intentional, or even aspirational. But not factual. I always check the team photo and… you know the rest. So, the challenge isn’t the pipeline – UK Black Comms Network and People Like Us are bursting with talented members, and I have personally coached a few agencies on recruitment. The challenge is the industry slipping back into its comfort zone where agencies and comms teams don’t feel anything is broken so aren’t planning to fix it.’
AI advancements were met with excitement and trepidation
‘I think one of the biggest challenges that those in PR face is also one of the industries’ greatest strengths, that it’s so difficult to stay on top of the wave of innovation,’ said Justin Fox, digital PR & outreach manager for CoursesOnline.
‘For example, the last year has seen a big uptake in the amount of campaigns that make use of AI artwork, as more and more free and easy-to-use tools have become available. PR campaigns have of course seized upon this, given the opportunity to generate unique and striking visual content, but what happens when these innovative approaches become mainstream?’
The legacy of COVID continued to put pressure on the press and PR
‘One challenge we continue to face is the increasing workload of journalists which means that getting hold of them can still be tricky, said Source PR senior account manager Jessica McDonnell.
‘Before Covid, I was in regular contact with journalists over the phone, but it feels like this level of contact has never really returned to normal pre-pandemic levels, and I don’t expect that to change in 2023.
‘I also think with businesses possibly tightening their purse strings, budgets will continue to be stretched for the next year or two, which could be challenging for PR agencies and in-house comms professionals. I think the battle to attract and retain talent in the industry will remain.’
For Fizzbox’s head of marketing Tom Bourlet, brighter times are on the way:
‘For many industries, the subjects their business focused on were either less appealing for journalists during lockdowns or were overshadowed by more important news pieces. However, the rejuvenation of a number of industries over the past six to 12 months means that many of these companies are now increasing their marketing and PR budgets and there are plenty of opportunities available. For our company, writing about events and activities during Covid, it was hard to escape the negativity – 2023 certainly looks a lot brighter.’