Change or be changed: 5 key areas for 2022
If 2021 was a year for comms professionals to manage and respond to change, 2022 will present opportunities for driving change. Here are a few thoughts about what I consider to be amongst the key areas of change for comms people in the financial and corporate space this year…
One of the biggest shifts I noticed over the past couple of years was a massive spike in demand for content creation. We’ve certainly seen that from an agency perspective. With events cancelled and less opportunity for in-person connection, BD and marketing teams have been demanding more of their comms teams to create other ways to reach their audiences - and that was met in a large part through creating content.
And whilst volume of content went up – around 30,000 hours of video content are now uploaded to YouTube every hour - the quality of content has not necessarily risen in tandem, despite the clear growing competition to be heard. In 2022, organisations are going to have to switch their focus on creating content to meet an easy short-term fix, and focus on making sure content is thoughtful, well-crafted and targeted, whether it’s written or audiovisual.
In the world of thought leadership, for example, it’s interesting that a recent study by LinkedIn and Edelman found that the majority of management level professionals (71%) thought that less than half of the thought leadership content they consume provides any sort of valuable insight. However, 65% said a piece of thought leadership significantly changed their perception of a company for the better.
The key now is for comms teams to push back on volume content creation and insist on a creative, quality first approach.
Comms and the ESG Acceleration
The impact of the pandemic on communities, health systems and the environment together with the focus of COP26 last year supercharged the focus on ESG investing. Although the term ESG has been around for over a decade, it’s in the last couple of years that sophistication has really accelerated in this space.
It’s impossible now to get through a day without talking about purpose, impact and sustainability, and the link with organisational reputation means that comms teams are right in the thick of this movement.
It’s why the CIPR held its first ever ‘Climate Change and the Role of PR’ conference last year.
But 2022 will see further evolution in this space, and comms teams need to not only keep up with the pace of change, but help shape it, in a number of ways.
First, there’s cutting through the jargon. An Aegon survey recently found that over half (55%) of Brits aren’t aware of or don’t understand the terms ‘responsible investment’, ‘sustainable investment’ or ‘ESG investing’ – despite their constant featuring in headlines. However, figures also show that ESG issues are of increasing importance, with nearly three-quarters (72%) concerned about environmental issues, 61% worrying about equality, and 65% having concerns about poor corporate governance practice.
Second, data reporting and benchmarking is set to become one of the biggest areas of evolution in this space, as investment firms look to show concrete evidence of returns in ESG investing and avoid allegations of greenwashing. For comms teams, this means a heightened understanding of transparency around external reporting, in managing technical data and in being prepared to handle accusations of greenwashing with clarity.
In 2022, it will not be good enough for ESG comms to be about firms planting trees to offset carbon emissions. Comms will need to be clearer, more transparent and more sophisticated, with an opportunity for the comms function to prove its value as an integral part of a firm’s sustainability, resilience and wider business strategy.
Clarity on paid
This continues to be a major bugbear of mine. In most locations legislation is in place to ensure that where content has been paid for by a business or agency, in any way, it is clear to the reader that that is the case. Jersey brought in legislation to mirror the UK’s law a few years ago, but Guernsey has still not done so – though it is on the cards.
But still in many cases, even well-established traditional media are failing to make that distinction. Sometimes it is an honest oversight, but this is a really important part of the communications mix. It’s vital to get it right – particularly in a world where misinformation is so prevalent.
Social media has added an additional dynamic, with ‘influencers’ and media accounts promising social posts as part of paid for marketing activity. If that is the case, it still needs to be made obvious.
Comms teams should be clear on this point and champion best practice and legal compliance in the paid space, and I hope we continue to see positive change in this space in 2022.
Internal comms and staff engagement
One of the huge developments in 2021 was the fracturing of ‘the office’ as part of WFH requirements. It suddenly put huge question marks over how to engage employees effectively, and comms teams that previously had an emphasis on external comms were all of a sudden focused almost entirely on internal.
It’s been positive that firms I’ve seen have set about this largely in creative ways – by launching employee podcasts, for instance, and through cross-jurisdictional video link ups or community initiatives.
These do not replace office environments, though, and in 2022 we are likely to see further evolution as the concept of the office continues to change, as organisations begin to put in place longer term working practices – practices that are likely to involve more shared, flexible office spaces that can cater for more home working. What is sure is that consistent office patterns and regularity in terms of colleague interaction are unlikely to persist.
All this still poses big questions over staff engagement – and with Edelman’s Trust barometer suggesting that an individual’s trust in their own CEO and co-workers is amongst the highest amongst all societal leaders - the relationship between staff and their employer remains crucial.
Digital tools but human touch
Digital adoption advanced considerably in 2021 for obvious reasons, and the trend is still only going in one direction. It’s why the CIPR produced research last year looking at skills readiness amongst PR practitioners around AI and technology.
There’s no doubt that technology can be a massive enabler in accelerating tasks, with tools available to make everyday jobs easier, from collating and creating content, to measuring output and managing data.
And there’s no doubt too that many jobs in PR - and elsewhere – will be put at risk if skills aren’t advanced to understand the significance of AI and technology and adopt digital technologies accordingly.
But it’s also important to remember that our industry is one that deals in trust and relationships…and relationships are about feelings and human interaction – not chatting to bots or raising engagement rates through algorithms. Sure, those things can maybe help us on the journey, but retaining a human touch will be really important this year as communities rebuild collectively.
One of the best webinars I tuned in to last year was on empathy – and surely if the events of the past two years have taught us anything, it’s the importance of human interaction.