As 2022 begins, the PR industry faces a set of challenges––some new and some familiar––to which it will have to adapt in order to thrive. With the emergence of the omicron variant, COVID-19 may continue to impact PR professionals and clients in the coming year. PR professionals across the country have been asked to offer some of their predictions for what they expect 2022 to bring to the industry.
Among the recurring predictions, professionals around the industry have increased their focus on real change in the industry regarding diversity and equity. Dr. Felicia Blow, the Chair-Elect for the Public Relations Society of America, predicted that there will be less emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion being “good business,” and greater emphasis upon keeping diverse employees within agencies as companies work to practice what they preach.
John McCartney, Director-at-Large of the LA and San Francisco chapters of PRSA agreed, saying, “This will be part of a general trend toward a more holistic perspective on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Businesses will work harder to meaningfully integrate DEI into their operations, rather than simply using it as a messaging strategy for internal communications.”
We asked BIGfish CEO David Richard to share his own predictions for the coming year.
The press release is dying, but not dead yet.
Enough of the industry is used to consuming news and news pitches in a press release format so it goes on and lives another day, but the notion of spending money and putting a press release on the wire is dwindling. I don’t know that that flame will go out in 2022, however it will become dimmer.
Brands have become their own self publishers because the Securities and Exchange Commission now recognizes websites, social media, and a number of digital media platforms for fair disclosure of information- as long as investors are notified. This combined with Google deemphasizing wire releases in its search algorithm, broke the stranglehold that PR wire services had on news dissemination by publicly traded entities and notable brands to the public and took away a lot of the teeth of those wire services. It’s still useful to get out there, but the media doesn’t look at those newswires the same way that they used to.
Wire services are also very expensive, and don’t get tagged from a news standpoint the same way that they used to – Google made sure of that. It’s very much an old school way of doing things; spraying your news out there and praying it gets seen. In effect, it’s the exact opposite; reporters see newswire announcements and say, ‘Oh, you self-published your news, congratulations, you published it so I don’t need to.’
Niche media outlets will gain in influence and credibility
Due to the increasing connectedness of the web, it’s much easier for niche media to exist where you can have a much smaller audience that is hyper aware of the subject matter. Now, because of search and the social web, it’s possible for these niche media outlets to not only survive, but thrive. When you work with them the right way, it can have really great outcomes hitting the core of an industry and the core of a specific market.
An old way to think of media was to break it into generator consumer press vs. trade press; now there it’s beyond trade press, it’s a hyper-focused version of press that could be consumer or B2B.
Financing announcements of early stage companies will no longer be a viable launch announcement option.
There’s just too much money being invested in early stage companies. A company and an idea raising $5 million used to be something novel a journalist could report on once or twice a month. Fundraising has become more than a daily event which means that early stage companies raising multiple millions of dollars multiple times a day becomes such a norm that it loses its newsworthiness. Early stage and innovative companies are going to be forced to look for new ways to tell their story.
In-person press briefings and interviews will bounce back, but ZOOM and Google Meet will remain a relevant, strong option if spokespeople can’t be in-studio or on-site.
It’s quick, it’s easy, you don’t need to get an executive on a plane. It’s a positive development for the industry and I really hope that it stays because it makes it easier for everybody and it consumes less energy and time.
News outlets will remain more open to using client-generated content like photographs and B-roll than before the pandemic hit due to less staff in newsrooms and a precedent of leaning heavily on client-generated content during the pandemic.
Reporters have had to lean on really good, trusted publicists to facilitate the media assets that a company has stored. Historically, they would have to send a photographer or videographer from a news outlet, but they have loosened the rules on that and opted to work more hand in hand with the publicists.
Events will likely bounce back post Omicron, but audiences and participation will remain thinner than pre-COVID.
People are more conscious of the idea of being in a closed room with people not wearing masks and not everybody is going to feel comfortable with that right away. It’s going to take a number of years for that “normal” level of comfort to fully come back. That plays a big part in our industry because events tend to bring in keynote speakers, fireside chats, speaking opportunities, awards, and more to generate awareness and media interest. It really makes a difference when it’s in person versus when it’s virtual and it’s really important for our industry to get that back on track when it comes to certain events that focus on an in-person element.
I do think there’s going to be virtual options for just about everything, which is nice because it does open up the ability for people to participate virtually and save on travel costs and adds to sustainability. Take CES 2022, for example: the amount of fuel not being burned to move people around is a definite positive to come out of all the cancellations. It’s a lot easier for people to participate when they don’t have to spend a day of travel getting there and getting back. Sure, there’s always going to be some loss by not having people there, but the nature of things is adapting and evolving to the circumstances.
Climate and sustainability will play a much bigger role in the media, in the national conversation, in spotlights shined on industry, and with specific brands.
I believe every brand is going to be thinking about their carbon footprint. Carbon credits are going to become a standard that brands are going to use to offset their carbon footprint. I believe that’s going to become more of a focus this coming year. It almost becomes part of the corporate social responsibility that brands have. The media is definitely becoming more aware of these things as well and looks for carbon neutral certifications whenever possible.
The questions are going to start being asked: what’s happening with the boxes a company ships products and supplies around the world in? How are those boxes getting to market and how much fuel dis it take? How are you building your product? What’s in your product? What happens when your product is done and ends up in landfill? We’re becoming very aware of the supply chain because of the failures we’ve seen due to COVID-19.
Marketing executives will continue to add more KPI dashboards to their branding and communications, forcing PR practitioners to be even sharper with their KPIs.
One of the challenges that publicists and PR pros face is the service providers around them are being more and more equipped with digital KPI dashboards.
There’s a reason the word “relations” is part of public relations. Relationships are key–and there’s no good dashboard for tracking relationships. Very few people would apply a KPI dashboard to relationships with your friends, loved ones, your partner, or anyone else. Imagine if your spouse told you, “You only washed the dishes 1.5 times this week”–there’s a right place to apply these things and there’s a wrong place and media relations is the wrong place for its application.
While BIGfish can’t speak to what 2022 is going to look like in all respects, we have some final thoughts for what the industry will do to weather the challenges of the next year.
A lot of people hoped and believed that 2021 was going to be the bounceback year – I think it’s going to be 2022 instead. Every day that goes by is a day that we’re learning to live with COVID-19 more and more. There are going to be setbacks and there are going to be cancellations, but in the grand scheme of things, the entrepreneurial spirit has not been quashed. There’s going to be a lot of innovation that is going to drive new products and services to the market, both at the startup level and at organizations with more established brands. Brands and businesses are not standing still.