I see big changes for our industry in the coming year. All signs point to:
1. Employees to employers: “Take this job and shove it!”
Media relations and reputation management goals will continue to focus on recruiting the best and the brightest. Hiring bonuses won’t be sufficient. What matters today is flexibility, empathy, and the ability to advance. The talent you want is checking your reputation on Glassdoor, NextDoor, and every other social site they happen to be on. They want to work for a brand that isn’t going to wreck the planet or society. And, ideally, one that also impresses their friends and family. That’s something that needs to be earned, not bought. Adjust your behavior, metrics, and messages accordingly.
2. You are now a recruiter.
Diversity will influence your communications. Not just in terms of recruitment. But in terms of the stakeholders that are important, the messages you will craft, and the reception that both have with your new, more diverse target audiences, internally and externally. Make sure you understand how your new more diverse audiences perceive your brand and where they get their information. (Hint – it probably isn’t the Wall Street Journal.) You should read 4 Steps to Measure Communications from the Audience Perspective.
3. Target influencers and media lists will evolve.
See point 2, above. The people you are selling to and the editors you are pitching will be increasingly diverse. As a result, you will have to do more than just talk about your diversity intentions. You will actually have to be inclusive. That means having diverse voices among your spokespeople, pitching your messages in a different voice, and ensuring that diversity is evident in the media you distribute.
4. Mistrust and skepticism will continue to define your key media.
The great media divide in our society will impact your audience regardless of who they are or where they reside. In fact, a large swath of the population no longer trusts “media” at all. They rely on like-minded friends in social media, or their IRL neighbors and friends for recommendations. Define “Top Tier Media” by who your audience trusts. That doesn’t mean ignoring mainstream media. But it does mean that you have to pay attention to interest-specific Facebook groups, SubReddit discussions, and local sites and influences like NextDoor.You also need to be proactive about promoting good solid information. That means practicing extreme transparency, make your sources and data front and center, support media literacy programs, and offer fact-checking tips about how to verify information online.
5. Pandemic mentality will persist.
Regardless of which “surge” you are in, our mentality of distress isn’t going away. Omicron has taught us that even the triple-vaxxed aren’t immune to COVID. So, for those of us who believe in science, our fear isn’t going anywhere. Working and learning from home are now part of our culture. For many people, the expectation that disruptions to our routine will now be routine is baked in. No one knows what normal is anymore. The good news is that PR people are pros at working through crises and events that are “abnormal.” You have the perfect skill set to excel in this environment, so get to work.
6. The trade show is extinct.
Attendance has been down dramatically for those brave (crazy?) organizations that have held in-person events in recent years. Sure, some of this is the COVID effect, but a bigger factor is the bottom line. The money that companies used to spend exhibiting and attending shows has vanished. Most trade shows are all about collecting leads and generating media coverage, and we’ve learned that there are cheaper ways to get them. As a result, trade show budgets have been reallocated to more cost-effective ways to find new customers. (Think Teladoc meets AR and VR.) Yes, hybrid events are all the talk, but they are labor intensive, and twice as expensive. Few companies have that kind of bandwidth.
The only people still clamoring for in-person events are sales people and sponsors who prefer face-to-face opportunities that random encounters between the canapes and cocktails provide. Real customers and decision makers no longer have the time or desire to spend multiple days in a hotel and wandering the aisles of convention centers. Instead, you’ll see big virtual events supplemented with small, intimate, very focused gatherings designed to meet the specific needs of specific types of customers. I for one, will not miss those canapes.Seriously, which would you prefer:
A. Standing on a crowded trade show floor for hours, sitting in uncomfortable seats in dark rooms, and standing in line for a tiny glass of bad wine, or
B. Sitting in the comfort of your own home sipping your favorite Cabernet in your slippers?
I know what my feet would prefer!
7. Google Analytics Certification will be the most sought-after skill for communications pros.
If an artificially intelligent bot can write articles, it can also write your press releases. Highlighting your “writing skills” assumes that the audience gets their information by reading. But a large swath of the public gets its information from TikTok and YouTube. Can you visualize your message? More importantly can you evaluate whether it’s effective?
Writing skills will be much less valuable than an ability to optimize messaging for SEO and measure results in G4 (the latest version of Google Analytics). Tools like SparkToro and Answer The Public are making it easier to identify influencers, create media lists, and craft SEO-friendly messages. Get your new skillset started at Google Analytics Academy.On the other hand, no amount of AI or tools can substitute for your institutional and industry knowledge. In 2022 it is your insight and critical thinking that will be your most valuable skills, not crafting the perfect press release.
8. Do you want to be “right,” or do you want to be persuasive?
You can throw out your Strunk & White. What will matter in 2022 is speaking in a voice that sounds empathetic and authentic to your target audience. If that means abbreviations, emojis, or contractions, you need to get over your obsession with what your 8th grade English teacher taught you was “proper.” (I’m sorry Miss Vicary, I want to be persuasive.)
9. First impressions on Zoom matter just as much.
My mother always told me, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” When I got my first real corporate berth, I went out and spent what I considered at the time to be “a fortune” on new suits for the office. Today’s equivalent is whatever shows up on your Zoom screen. First impressions on Zoom matter just as much, if not more, than first impressions IRL. That doesn’t mean you need a professional to take the perfect picture or create a perfect bookshelf in your bedroom. It does mean that your Zoom image should reflect your “brand” i.e. who you are and what you aspire to. Plan your virtual background, wardrobe, and demeanor accordingly.
10. Tech, tech, and more tech.
The last few years have brought new tools and technology that enable us to be more precise in targeting and tracking media, more persuasive in our messaging, and more effective as communicators. From creating media lists, to conducting surveys, to designing presentations, to creating dashboards, new tools have drastically simplified and lowered the costs of the chores that used to drive us crazy. That trend will continue in 2022. (It will be interesting to see if the competition between all these tools leads to consolidation or lower prices.) So now is not the time for you to sit back and rely on what used to work. Get hungry for new technology: search out new tools that will save you and your organization time and effort.
11. The Olympics, the midterms, and Black History Month, oh my!
Whatever is new in the news feed will bring a flurry of bad puns, worse hashtags, and too many brands newsjacking in vain hopes that people will “engage” with them. It’s likely that these efforts will cause kerfuffles on Twitter, yet not affect profits. As long as organizations think that likes are all that matter, they will continue their vain attempts to create like-able content.
Ever optimistic, I trust that sometime in 2022 we will wake up and get over our obsession with the wrong metrics. You have to measure your impact on the business, not just on your Instagram account. Otherwise you are helping Meta or Twitter harvest data, instead of generating some useful data of your own. ∞