What emerging trends will impact PR in 2022? Industry insiders share their thoughts for PRCA event

At the end of last year, several of the Babel team shared their predictions for PR and communications in 2022. Shunning social media, using PR to support recruitment strategies, and the increasingly high expectations stakeholders place on their comms teams were among the trends slated as sector-shapers this year.

Babel’s PR pros weren’t the only ones acting as market oracles, though. Later to the party were a select group of communications leads based in the UK but, like Babel, serving clients all over the world. These six voices, representing different sectors and specialisms within PR and marketing, contributed to a recent PRCA panel event exploring the emerging trends impacting public relations in 2022.

As a member of the PRCA – and topping its global list of agencies in terms of training and development – the session was of great interest to us, sparking consensus and debate among our team. In case you missed the event, we’ve summarised the main trends predicted for 2022:

“2022 could be the year of change when it comes to talent”

Everyone in PR is hiring, everyone is competing for the same talent, and filling positions is becoming increasingly difficult. As such, said Alexandra Lewington, head of PR and communications recruitment at Reuben Sinclair, “candidates are undoubtedly in the driving seat” this year. While pay rises and promotions used to work as retention strategies, candidates today are demanding more. A change in sector, the chance to acquire new skillsets and a desire for purpose in their work are among the reasons given by individuals for leaving employers, continued Lewington.

How can new agencies attract this talent? Big up your brand, Lewington suggested, something which is “quite often overlooked”. Shout about why your agency is great place to work and what you do better than others. But mostly importantly, said Lewington: be honest and authentic.

Brands can no longer sit on the fence

John Brown, CEO and founder of Don’t Cry Wolf shared not one but four trends for the year ahead. The first of these concerned the need for brands to back up any claims they make with solid evidence. Echoing Lewington, Brown stressed the need for authenticity. Brands can no longer “just idly stumble into a campaign and hope for the best.” As such, it’ll be interesting to look at how the promises and claims made at COP26 in October/November will play out this year.

Second came the prediction that vulnerability will be very vogue. The world has “moved past this idea that a brand is entirely perfect,” said Brown. Instead, companies get cred by admitting when things go wrong, accepting that humans are imperfect, and explaining how they can improve. “If you do that,” he explained, “you’ll connect on a really human level.”

Strong opinions – and strong counter-arguments – dominate much of social media and politics. As such, “we can’t just sit on the fence anymore,” argued Brown. A brand saying that it’s apolitical and won’t take sides won’t be good enough this year. Instead, they need to take a position, share the principles they hold, and explain what they represent and the vision they have of kind of world they want.

“Make it make sense”

Today, we have incredible technology, a growing market for NFTs, promises of a metaverse and flashy gadgets. But are we using these things in the way we could and should be, asked Michael Mpofu, head of communications at Worry and Peace.

Many of today’s tech brands have grand visions for their tech, but do these play out in terms of the real-world applications of these products and services? “There’s a huge gap” argued Mpofu, between the ease and convenience promised by brands, and what they actually deliver in reality. The perfect example? It’s easy to download an app or sign up for a trial, but when things go wrong, it’s near impossible to speak to a human being for help.

In 2022, brands need to be watchful of this and make efforts to bridge the gap between online and the real world. It’s the task of communicators to ensure a brand’s vision, its products or its services make sense in both worlds. “This year belongs to people who can mind that gap,” Mpofu concluded.

The PR industry must level up

Social mobility and “leveling up” are much needed trends, said Sarah Waddington, MD at Astute, as PR does not represent the public it seeks to represent. A quick glance at the PRCA’s annual census easily proves Waddington’s point. The industry is mostly white (and the pay gap is in their favour); the majority of PR practitioners grew up in a household in which the main earner occupied a higher managerial, admin and professional role; and while there have been increases in the number of people in PR identifying as LGBTQ+ or with a disability, the sector still has a way to go to ensure it reflects groups it aims to engage with.

“Growth in our industry disproportionately favours the privileged,” stated Waddington, and while there are initiatives to counter this, they don’t do enough. As such, people with disabilities, women returning to the workplace, LGBTQ+, and school leavers remain underrepresented. How should we address this in 2022?

We need to make sure social mobility is at the top of priority list for all agencies, advised Waddington. This requires a cultural shift, as well as the implementation of practical things that can really create change. Focus on school leavers, she suggested, a group often overlooked, as most initiatives focus on people who are already in the industry and have some experience. This is an approach Babel has already taken: we welcomed PRCA Apprentice Lauren to the team last year!

2022 will be the year of the “do-say gap”

The environment, covid, geopolitical tensions, trade wars, political conduct: there were a lot of major issues in the news throughout 2021. Many will continue to dominate in 2022, including climate commitment, said Philip Honour, director at Porter Novelli.

However, he warned, ESG will start to be seen as a “distraction”; people are facing issue fatigue and growing more sceptical about brands’ commitments to ESG and social justice issues. So, continued Honour, 2022 will be the year of the “do-say gap”, and brands must be able to tell stories about work they are doing – not just the promises they are making.

Consider next-gen voices

How do we get diverse young talent to feel included, asked Jo Ogunleye, B2B communications lead at Google. Telling people that their voices matter and encouraging them to share their viewpoints “might not be a trend, yet but I’d certainly love this to be a consideration,” she said.

Jo also listed practical approaches which brands and PR teams can take in 2022. Give free tickets to disadvantaged groups for events, for example. And when senior team members attend industry events, why not bring along a younger member(s) of the team? Leaders should reach out to millennials and gen Z, Jo continued, widening the scope for talent and recruiting outside of the PR pool. Echoing Waddington’s sentiment, Jo rounded off her presentation by concluding: everyone’s voice and perspective matters.

There we have it: a range of PR industry trends that are predicted to shape the sector this year. More important to take note of, however, are the suggested action points. These will hopefully help to create a representative and accessible industry, and help brands and PRs to communicate and amplify authentic voices and visions. Interesting to learn how we’re planning on putting these into practice – and what we can achieve for your brand this year? Get in touch!

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