We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the Canadian communications landscape has changed drastically over the past five years. First it was newsroom closures and fewer journalists with higher demands for creating clickable content. Now with a pandemic that’s lasted nearly two years, it can be a tricky time for communications professionals as we head into the new year.
What a year! After 2020 wiped out all the plans people, companies, organizations and governments had made for that year, 2021 continued to surprise us in both good and bad ways.
Worldwide rollout of vaccination; bullish stock markets; tourists in space, former presidents sentenced for jail or banned from social media platforms; return of inflation; “red code” alert over climate change; pullout of Afghanistan; social platforms proliferate, replace executives or change name; a disappointing climate summit; long-term politicians exit the game – just a few of the major events that shaped our World in the past eleven and a half months. Needless to say, all of them have had communications aspects and a number of PR and comms consultants working on them (or against them), building on them, comment on them and – hopefully – learning from them.
What is for sure, next year will not stop posing challenges and creating opportunities for the public relations industry and its practitioners no matter where they are based on the globe.
From the zillion possible directions and “watch out fors” here are two dozens of select advices and predictions for yet another unpredictable year from the worldwide members of PRGN, the network where agency members gather to connect and share.
1. “I see two broad trends for 2022. First, we are expecting public relations to play a leading role as the global economy recovers and as we adjust to a new world where we live with Covid for years to come. Being able to tell your story to the right audience at the right time will put PR at the forefront.
Second, internal communications and communicating with employees will be central to the success of every organization. With a tight labour market, keeping the people you have will be even more important than attracting new talent.”
2. “ESG issues will be dominating corporate communications in 2022 and beyond.”
Michael Diegelmann, Founder and CEO, cometis, Wiesbaden, Germany
3. “In the U.S., “cancel culture,” particularly related to DEI, will continue. From a communications standpoint, this means that brands must continue to be thoughtful and authentic in their words and, most importantly, actions.”
Sandy Lish, Principal/Co-Founder, Castle, Boston, Massachusetts
4. “In a context of instability, where we can no longer project ourselves in the long term as in the old normality, priorities of values are changing. The power of politicians and the press, democracy and capitalism are replaced by the social networks, and the voice of all and no longer of a select few. Each one wants to have an opinion and choose their destiny and not delegate that right.
The role of public relations in this new world must also adjust. Communicating will always be important, but now more than ever taking a role as communicators and advisers being conciliators, raising values such as the ability to listen to the other, the value for the environment and respect for the communities. If companies do not incorporate these new values, they will have to prepare to face a crisis. And we advisers must guide them in that path.”
Valentina Giacaman Hazboun, Founding Partner, RumboCierto Comunicaciones, Santiago, Chile
5.“PR agencies will be using more and more tools for handling the routines while concentrating on the creative jobs.”
Uwe Schmidt, Managing Partner, Industrie-Contact, Hamburg, Germany
6. “…And the tools that Uwe mention will be driven more by advanced AI and linguistic technology to support a higher quality of reporting, basic translation and media monitoring among other things – as well as fact-checking technology to help fight fake news. Tools like this will support our agencies in saving time on traditional manual PR tasks or even replace some of those which we have seen as core areas. So, to stay relevant, our focus must be even more on what separates the human brain from the machine: Creativity, Strategy, Feelings – and value driven by high-quality content.”
Christina Rytter, CEO & Founder, Scandinavian Communications, Copenhagen, Denmark
7. “We see three major trends for the coming year:
1) The workplace will continue to evolve as “work from anywhere” and hybrid models become the norm.
2) Hiring quality talent will remain a challenge, forcing agency hiring managers to think differently about who the ideal candidate might be.
3) Client budgets will remain steady, with opportunities to additional projects in order to increase fees.”
Abbie Fink, Vice President & General Manager, HMA Public Relations, Phoenix, Arizona
8. “Counterintuitively, while the Covid-pandemic constrained people to their homes, it opened more communications pathways enabling people to connect. The PR industry now has the opportunity to create more content and more ways to engage audiences. The media mix that includes the integration of paid and earned media will be more important than ever in 2022.”
Sean Dowdall, President, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI), San Francisco, California
9. “Like 2020 and 2021, 2022 will be a year of great uncertainty. This uncertainty will be fueled by the seemingly endless pandemic and increasing problems in the global supply chain, as well as the pervasive frustration these two issues will continue to generate.
But in 2022, great leaders and smart companies will move from simply dealing with uncertainty to actually embracing and leveraging it — as a catalyst for positive change. To do this, those leaders will need to communicate more than ever, to help their followers overcome fear and frustration with inspiration, encouragement, and a shared vision of a better future.
So, clear, consistent and powerful communications, both on internal and external fronts, will be more important than ever for leaders.”
Jim Bianchi, President, Bianchi Public Relations, Detroit, Michigan
10. “The ‘work from anywhere’ mindset is here to stay. Companies will continue to redefine what the workplace actually is. In fact, it’s evolving to a mindset, not a location. Those that continue to create company culture based on relationships – not location — will thrive.
PR isn’t just PR anymore. There is no doubt that public relations – which carries roots from the journalism side of the industry, now touches marketing, e-commerce, social media, digital outreach and more. Moving forward, campaigns will be built on a solid foundation of defining the message, but how that message is distributed has morphed into a wide range of tactics far beyond traditional public relations. Those firms that embrace this expansion will continue to grow.”
Leeza Hoyt, President, The Hoyt Organization, greater Los Angeles, California
11. “Hybrid is here to stay. Although everyone values personal interactions, the pandemic has shown how feasible remote working is. The challenge remains to keep growing and building teams in this new environment while learn from the younger generations to better satisfy their needs. Clear communications allowing space for emotions will be strongly supported and followed.”
Dominique Biquard de Parenti, Partner, Identia PR, Buenos Aires, Argentina
12. “We expect that the pharma and healthcare industry will be the big winner of all we went through over the last couple of years – in all developed countries and beyond. This will also be mirrored in the PR world where agencies with special reputation and expertise in that field will flourish (as they do already). Tourism and travel will need time to recover as will specialized PR agencies in that sector. We also expect that traditional press conferences, trade shows and similar events will never return to a pre-pandemic level and relevance. Hybrid versions and even more elaborated innovations we don’t see yet will take their place.”
Robert Bauer, Managing Partner, accelent communications, Vienna, Austria
13. “2022 will see a continuing recuperation from the pandemic downturn. The growing demand for digital services will last even after Covid-19 and replace some of the former face-to-face meetings to a greater extent. We will witness a growing trend of offering digitally advanced tools on different levels and different fields within public relations, such as hybrid events and customized virtual services”.
Karl Rickhamre, Agency Principal, Coast Communications, Stockholm, Sweden
14. “The need to be nimble will never be more important. In this new world order, we are all managing businesses based on shifting sand, nothing is predictable. We must ride not fight the waves to keep clients, win new ones, hold staff, and stay true to our values.”
Sara Pearson, Founder and Chairman, Spider, London, United Kingdom
15. “The world is recovering from nearly two years of the pandemic. Add to that the social, racial, and political unrest, and I think it is not a stretch to say that many have been traumatized by the events of the last several years. There is a collective grief that permeates much of the world right now. I predict that brands that are able to evoke comfort, reassurance, normalcy and authenticity will excel this year. Brands that are able to convey care, kindness and empathy – no matter what industry they are in – will find their voices amplified.”
Anne Buchanan, President and Founder, Buchanan Public Relations, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
16. “Looking ahead to 2022, the operative word for public relations professionals will be hybrid. We’ll need to continue to adapt our communications for a hybrid environment where our target audiences are likely a combination of in person and remote. This includes everything from internal communications to both manufacturing and office associates to external communications to customers and media at trade shows.”
Brad Kostka, President, Roop & Co., Cleveland, Ohio
17. “Kind communication:
Kindness helps build relationships. Even in organizations. Public relations will play an increasingly important role in promoting the culture of kindness as a catalyst and agent of communication intended as a means to connect, create value, well-being and sustainable development.
In PR there’s never been winners or losers, but people and systems that confront and interact in a perfect relational balance.
In 2022 we will see PR practicing and spreading practices of kindness more than ever.”
Alessandra Malvermi, Managing Partner, Sound Public Relations, Milan, Italy
18. “In the B2B space, I believe there are three things marketing and communications specialists should not lose sight of:
1) Personalisation strategies and tactics
First and foremost, personalisation strategies and tactics remain focused on credible relationship building which will progressively need to be refined in the online space as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc with marketers’ best intentions to return to in-person engagements and activations.
In this respect, it’s important to remember that personalisation comprises a dual approach: On a strategic level, brands need to reflect the personas and voices that persuade diverse audiences that share their values and understand their needs. On a tactical level, the use of AI will allow marketers to use data to target niche groups with selected messages for selected audiences.
2) The battle against content glut is real – only credible content and original data has the power to influence
Credible, quality content gives depth to brand stories, particularly if supported by own research reports, surveys and white papers. It heightens relevance for audiences and creates avenues for customer engagement beyond content platforms and media relations to include videos and virtual events that can also include third party influencers and authoritative voices bolster the B2B brand’s profile.
3) Websites as interactive customer engagement tools
Websites are the most valuable owned digital property for B2B marketers. They are no longer just repositories of vast amounts of information or just ‘final’ destinations for digital marketing efforts. Retaining visitors, persuading them to take desired actions, and ensuring that their ranking remains top, will require constant engagement with content, optimization to ensure it is streamlined to efficiently direct visitors and interactive technologies to keep visitors engaged.”
Lynn Erasmus, Managing Director, HWB Communications, Cape Town, South Africa
19. “There is a new heightened expectation for walking the talk with professional development across the communications industry. We no longer can attend a conference to check a box but must commit to lifelong learning and prioritize strengthening our team’s specializations across the board in order to earn adequate marketing budgets. The past two years have challenged public relations professionals to step into the spotlight more and play an active role in successfully navigating organizations through unchartered territories. Our firm has identified creative solutions for protecting time each week to turn our agency into a collaborative learning classroom and challenge others to reimagine this process for their own organizational setting.”
Louise Oliver, APR, President, Peritus PR, Birmingham, Alabama
20. “Trend 1: ESG
Governments and key stakeholders including consumer groups and activist shareholders are expecting companies to do more on the ESG – Environmental, Social and (Corporate) Governance – front. Whereas adoption of ESG principles and best practices was positively received by the public in the past, companies now increasingly must meet mandatory disclosure and reporting requirements.
The challenge is for PR agencies to help clients manage and navigate the new standards and expectations, while avoiding “greenwashing” (i.e., claiming and hyping up environmentally responsible targets and achievements). One way forward would be to work with clients on establishing long-term ESG principles and frameworks, as well as setting short-term goals and communication.
Trend 2: Digital Fragmentation
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, people were already spending a lot of time online, and companies had to find ways to engage with target audiences by maintaining presence in social and digital media. The pandemic has accelerated this trend – people are spending even more time (personal and professional) online. Shopping habits are also increasingly changing. In the past, people looked for goods to buy in physical stores and then also online; today, especially in China, goods are said to be in search of customers, i.e., they are pushed to consumers via influencers.
Another buzzword/emerging trend is the “metaverse”. It is unclear if we will see a true inter-connected metaverse; for now, there can be said to be several contenders, each with their own ecosystem. If we think of game producers like Roblox as potential metaverse managers, and see the potential to do product placement, brand building and customer acquisition for our clients, imagine what it would mean if PR agencies had to help manage clients’ identities across multiple social and digital universes (e.g. offline and internet presence, Facebook and Instagram, Roblox and other game/metaverse platforms, influencers).”
Boh Tiong Yap, Founder and Managing Director, Mileage Communications, Singapore
21. “Everyone thought Covid-19 would be behind us by now. However, the circumstances have changed PR plans and media strategies at least for the near future. Now, when planning forward, we should emphasize Issues Management techniques to avoid having to deploy Crisis Management. It is crucial to identify issues that may impact the organization early on, and to initiate action to influence these issues. Both internal and external factors should be addressed in this regard.”
Eli Kamir, Founder and Chairman, KAMIR, Tel-Aviv, Israel
22. “Apart from the Covid-specific issues that are likely to exercise us in 2022, it was interesting to see a HarrisX/Ragan survey find recently that leadership is the no. 1 skill that CEOs value in a communicator. Our clients are looking to us for direction more than ever. And the direction that many brands now want to go is towards finding greater purpose in what they say and do. Next year, I think PR will be expected to show even greater leadership by helping our clients prioritise and positively influence societal and sustainability issues including inequality (health, education, income), food shortages, the global loneliness epidemic, and of course climate change.”
Owen Cullen, Managing Director, Cullen Communications, Dublin, Ireland
23. “In a commercial world in which ESG is becoming increasingly important, it is not so much about what you think you should do, but about doing what society requires of you. That is why communication is no longer about What you do and How you do it, but Why you do something. The purpose of your company must be real, and not a made-up story. A passion and drive that is shared by everyone in your company and valued by your stakeholders. Promote that WHY as much as possible in everything you do, on your website, on socials and all your other means of communication. Even towards the What-oriented journalists and editors, your Why will provide a distinctive advantage.”
Coen Staal, Managing Director, Evident P.R., Amersfoort, Netherlands
24. “Looking at 2022 and beyond, I’d focus my PR and communications predictions on four areas:
1. Successful brands will be the ones offering connectivity and emotion – considering especially the lack of such experiences in the last two years.
2. Sustainability and social responsibility will not be optional anymore.
3. Storytelling will continue to be the core of campaigns; meaningful partnerships, popular influencers and experts will be more and more involved in building brands’ stories.
4. We will continue to evolve to a more genuine, simple and meaningful way to communicate with our publics.”
PRGN President Alexandra Dinita – General Manager, Free Communication, Bucharest, Romania
25. “2022 will reward PR pros who give voice to people and brands that campaign for social and intergenerational justice. Covid-19 has widened the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, and climate inaction means the future will not be a safe place for our kids’ kids. The frequency and impact of climate-related events will intensify and this will keep crisis and emergency comms experts busy.”
Mark Paterson, Principal, Currie, Melbourne, Australia