It’s that time of year when the countdown to a New Year has everyone in the mood for summing up the last twelve months and making predictions about the next twelve.
We can’t resist the temptation to join the prediction game about our favorite topic, public relations, so allow us to share some thoughts on some trends that are ready to break through in 2022.
We got some help by reaching out to PR pros and getting their input. Spending as much time as they do on the front lines of the industry, we think they’re a pretty reliable source of educated guesses on which way the wind will blow in the coming year. We’ve included their quotes here so you can get a taste of the variety of opinions that we collected.
Some of these predictions may have been on your radar already while others might come as a surprise. Some have been building for a while while others have been triggered into being fairly recently by larger events.
Either way, here are 6 trends that we think are going to define the conversation about PR in 2022:
- Moving closer towards content regulation on social media
- A greater emphasis on social responsibility & business ethics
- The rise of Artificial Intelligence and data science
- Digital events are the new norm
- Soon, everyone will have a podcast
- Paid exposure is likely to replace earned media
Moving closer towards content regulation on social media
Every PR specialist knows the power of a good social media campaign. It is (mostly) free, it’s a medium where your target audience is active and pretty much the entire planet is accessible at this point.
But the social media landscape is changing fast behind the scenes. Concerns about misinformation, political conflicts and, some would say, the centralization of a lot of power have all combined to create a very different environment than the one you might remember from years ago.
As audiences continue to move away from traditional media outlets towards social media, there have been opportunities for brands to take greater control of their brand narratives than ever before. Questions arise around where content creators’ responsibility ends and platforms’ begins affects brand strategies and messaging. In fact, companies are already moving towards increased enforcement of guidelines designed to prevent online misinformation. – PR specialists @ HM&M PR
It’s very hard to say where this is headed, but the takeaway here is to be aware of both the need for full transparency at all times and to avoid putting all of your eggs in one social media basket.
In fact, the importance of justice and transparency is likely to be a particularly prominent topic in the next few years, which leads right into our next big trend.
A greater emphasis on social responsibility & business ethics
You’ve surely noticed that transparency and accuracy in communication have been growing in importance in the PR community. Some see it as an inevitable step of the development of social-first journalism, while others connect the increased interest in social responsibility from the brands’ standpoint to other issues they can’t address directly.
Consumers want to feel like they’re doing business with the right brands and don’t want to be associated with scandal and anything with even the faintest hint of controversy.
The recent economy-wide disruptions (and PR nightmares) caused by supply chain and shipping problems were on the mind of at least one PR specialist who responded to us:
The main trends will be a sharper focus on the benefits of a company’s products or services in light of the shipping problems that have been experienced and, in many cases, price increases. The challenges for the PR professional will be convincing product purchasers and/or service consumers, and media, that your client or employer has learned from the ongoing pandemic and has adapted to the “new normal.” Public skepticism is going to be at an all-time high for the foreseeable future. – Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA & Adjunct Professor of Communication @ University of Tampa (FL)
There is a growing interest in where major brands stand ethically, which initiatives they support, and, more importantly, what it all means to the communities they serve.
Consumers are no longer willing to believe a mission statement or corporate talking head claiming a company does the right thing — they want proof. Customers will seek, support, and engage with brands aligned with their ethos — and they’re more than willing to call out dishonesty and inaccuracy. Accurate communications and consistency across all media platforms will help consumers trust and support your brand. – Amy Roberts, Vice President of Communications + Client Services @ KNB Communications
Many say that businesses are pressured by a variety of stakeholders to take a stance on vital social issues, from BLM to gender equity, healthcare, pay equity, DEI, etc. Not only take a stance, but put action plans together and demonstrate real progress, not just rhetoric (Greg Feistman, Assistant Chair of Public Relations @ Temple University).
What does this mean for PR specialists? It’s pretty simple: our job now is to make sure that our clients have a worthy, respectable cause to represent, a cause is aligned with their companies’ missions & customer base, and that the world knows about all the effort they are making.
Staying out of these conflicts is becoming harder all the time, as is navigating the path forward. The best advice here is to act with caution and do everything you can to keep your finger on the pulse of your clients’ markets and industries.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence and data science
Don’t panic – we’re not predicting the rise of the machines (yet?). But this is one of those trends that has been building for a long time and has reached boiling point. 2022 will be the year that statistical data analysis moves to the center of effective PR tactics:
Leveraging relevant data and analytics, statistics, and reports with a pitch will be highly important. Having the right storyline is one part of the equation, anchoring that pitch with a dynamic statistic will boost its relevance 10X. Offering up a key stakeholder who can knowledgeably speak to that data is even better. Publicists should consider working with their clients on how to mine and own the right data on behalf of a company. – Zoe Weisberg Coady, Founder & CEO @ Brandstyle Communications
And when it comes to effective data gathering, Artificial Intelligence is now a must-have. AI allows you to find and pull all the relevant information faster and it is also a crucial factor when it comes to communication and processes automation.
PR is becoming more dependent on data. To tell compelling stories to your target market, important data has to be collected and scrutinized. Companies that want to succeed today must embrace numbers and analytics and need to be smarter about how they use data. Data analysis gives deeper insights into behaviors and habits. – PR specialists @ HM&M PR
Data-driven AI allows PR specialists to automate mundane tasks such as searching for the most relevant channels and media contacts, calculating the best time of day for sending press releases and other media materials, establishing the most suitable type of content for a given campaign, following up effectively, and more.
Let the machines do the work for us now and hope they’ll be nice to us later.
Digital events are the new norm
This trend shouldn’t come as a big surprise given the ongoing pandemic situation. Webinars, workshops, conferences, interviews, public statements – all are done online now and most people seem to be on board. This does, however, imply a major shift into how PR specialists need to approach digital PR events:
Events will no longer be about the volume of attendees, people have become pickier about how they choose to spend their time, so a more targeted approach will be essential to catching key influencers. It’ll no longer be about the number of attendees to an event, but rather the quality of those who attend and ensuring you work with the best contacts that are well aligned to your brand to form lasting brand advocates. – Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO @ Mavens & Moguls
Emphasizing quality over quantity is always tricky. Nevertheless, it tends to be good for all stakeholders in the long run. Make up for what participants miss in terms of face-to-face networking with outstanding content. Attendees get valuable information and the feeling of “getting exactly what they paid for”, businesses benefit from their target clients’ satisfaction, and PR managers leverage the boost to their personal brand.
If you haven’t started upgrading your ability to organize virtual events, get to work.
Soon, everyone will have a podcast
While we mentioned that content is becoming the go-to strategy for public relations managers these days, there is one form of content that deserves its own place on this list: podcasts.
Podcasts and podcast listeners are growing at rapid rates. Podcast interviews in particular are great for exposure because they offer extended time for founders to talk about their story and their mission. Podcast listeners are dedicated audiences who are looking to learn and take action, and a potential lead can decrease the time needed to convert. Plus, podcast episodes stay ‘live’ forever, so by being on a podcast, you can have a recurring and evergreen stream of leads. – Kayley Hamilton, CEO & Founder @ KAYLEY Media
As you can see, getting your clients a spot on a trending podcast can be very beneficial over the long term. Also, consumers have embraced the medium so there’s no need to educate your core audience on what this whole ‘podcast’ thing is all about.
Finally, by dedicating a part of your PR strategy to podcasts, you will access a whole new audience who prefer this kind of content, thus significantly boosting your clients’ brand awareness.
That’s what we call a win-win. Podcasts are easy and inexpensive to produce, the technology puts everyone on an equal footing and, as they say in every Marketing department on the planet, content is king.
Paid exposure is likely to replace earned media
Finally, there is a very significant challenge for all of the PR professionals to address in the upcoming year:
[2022,] this is the year when pay-to-play reaches critical mass. Next year could be the tipping point when paid exposure is far more accessible than earned media. In some cases, it will be more desirable to clients, who are interested in a niche. – Sharon Geltner, President @ Froogle PR
Today, it is easier than ever to promote your own business: you simply need to press the right set of buttons on Facebook, and your recent post will be visible to whomever your heart desires. So, naturally, many of your potential clients will decide against investing in a full-time PR specialist on their side.
With so much content making it so hard to stand out, many companies are deciding that simply paying to go to the top of the list is a better option.
Our job here is to educate our clients about all the pros and cons of such an approach and explain why working with a professional is always a safer option.
More importantly, we will have to work much harder to retain existing client bases, as many of them will give in to the temptation to run their own show. Your existing connections with journalists, access to various media platforms, and experience are definitely going to help you mitigate the damage from this unfortunate trend.
If this wasn’t on your radar before, it needs to be front and center now. Work on refining your value proposition and make what you bring to the table very clear.
As you can see, there’s a common denominator to all the most-likely scenarios envisioned by the PR experts: it’s time to level up in the game and bet on quality work.
Everybody — consumers, clients — is growing more sophisticated and that’s why the tricks that took you viral in 2018 aren’t likely to impress in 2022. Are you ready for it?