Here at PRovoke Media, we usually kick off the year with our annual Trend Forecast, examining how key issues and developments are likely to impact specific sectors and practice areas.

But Trend Forecasts can get reductive. They often look backwards as much as they look forwards, recycling issues that have remained influential for years, if not decades. They don't necessarily take into account the convergence of practice areas and sectors, and how common factors have emerged that do not respect traditional industry boundaries.  

And, of course, the Covid-19 era has made something of a mockery of conventional crystal ball gazing. As accepted wisdom changes at a dizzying pace, who can really predict what will happen tomorrow, much less new communications trends and issues over the next 12 months?

Accordingly, this year, we are partnering with a handful of industry leaders from across the globe to refresh our Trend Forecast. Rather than telling you what might happen, we're tapping into decades of experience to describe what we'd like to see play out this year. Think of it as curation combined with aspiration and a healthy dose of pragmatism, but with enough idealism to give us all something to aim for in 2022. As always, your feedback is welcomed. 

Corporates taking a real position on human rights
Paul Holmes, founder, PRovoke Media
Companies are going to face some challenging questions about human rights—from the plight of the Uighurs in China to the use of slave labor in World Cup preparation in Qatar to abortion rights in Texas and other American states. I hope companies have the courage to move beyond bland banalities and take real positions on these vital issues.

A greater focus on personalization
Torod Neptune, SVP and CCO, Medtronic
Today more than ever, consumers expect to be treated as unique individuals. In parallel, the historical reach and influence of mass media continues to decline as audiences shift their attention to their favorite social networks. Given these growing trends, personalization and message relevance play increasingly important roles as consumption habits (and demographics) shift toward distributed platforms and channels where consumers are actively seeking relevant, interesting, and engaging content that matters to them. As a discipline, I hope this reality focuses us on thinking critically about earned / traditional media and how best to engage audiences by orchestrating complex programs, mapped to customer-centric journeys (e.g. experiences) across an evolving mix of digital experiences and channels, at scale.

Movements rather than moments
Julianna Richter, global CEO, Ogilvy PR
I would like to see a focus on more modern, creative communications. Having an earned creative idea that is informed by data and fueled by technology is critical in today’s communications landscape, but it must be paired with a truly human-centric focus. Grounding sharp insights in shared lived experiences allows us to be culturally relevant and engage with audiences in real-time, and in new ways. It means we can move from being “of the moment” to creating movements – which is an opportunity for PR to have a real impact.

The development of a monetary value for trust
Paul Holmes
I would like to see the PR industry come together—led by the largest agencies—to develop a framework that helps us put a monetary value on trust. We all know that lack of trust adds to the “friction” of doing business, of recruiting talent, constructing new facilities, avoiding regulation, launching new products—but we need to answer the question of how many dollars a 1% increase in trust is really worth.

A greater emphasis on all aspects of diversity
Jo-ann Robertson, CEO of UK & global client solutions, Ketchum
As a working class girl from the west of Scotland I've been working for 20 years to see more diversity in the PR industry. In 2022 I hope that we see more organisations walk the talk when it comes to the DE&I agenda. I would like to see an increased focus on attracting, retaining, and progressing to leadership people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This takes a rethink on what we 'expect' to see on a CV, how we on-board and promote a sense of belonging, and the organisations that we partner with. Two organisations that I would highly recommend are Future Frontiers and Socially Mobile.

Technology as a tool, rather than a substitute
Maja Pawinska Sims, associate editor, PRovoke Media
In 2022, I’d like to see the PR industry use technology in even smarter and more innovative ways to ensure we can return to in-person events and meetings, while continuing all the advantages of inclusivity and geographic scope that remote working has brought us over the past two years. We need to perfect the hybrid model, acknowledging that we still need human connection — from relationships, to shared experiences, to serendipitous encounters that foster creativity, inspiration and support, to moving forward together on big industry challenges. Technology must be a valuable tool, not a substitute for real life.

Get serious about being local
Alex Malouf, corporate comms director MEA, Schneider Electric
I’d love 2022 to be the year when we get serious about going local. I’d love the industry to focus on local languages, develop the capabilities of locals before bringing in expats, and seek to understand local audiences. It sounds simple, and it should be. The more we can relate to our stakeholders — and the more they can relate to us — the more impactful our work will be. Let’s make 2022 the year when we go truly local in terms of our approach to communications and public relations.

Urgent action to address racial inequities 
Arun Sudhaman, editor-in-chief, PRovoke Media
By now, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and extensive industry research, the PR industry cannot claim ignorance of the systemic racial inequities that continue to plague its agencies. And for all of the laudable rhetoric, it is time for PR firms to start delivering in terms of reality, tackling the issues that render the industry far too homogenous. That means, at a minimum, full transparency on promotion and pay gaps, targets and accountability, along with proactive measures to boost diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. It's hard work, but it's hardly impossible, and it will only help the industry better reflect the various communities it depends on. 

Use the full potential of data
Nitin Mantri, group CEO, Avian WE (India)
I’d like to see clients use the full potential of big data in their campaigns in 2022. There is a lot of discussion and focus on the power of big data. Brands are investing heavily in databases, data scientists, and data analytics software. But we are not seeing it come through in campaigns and agencies are not set up to do so. Just spending money blindly on acquiring big data tools is not enough. Along with data prioritisation, clients must focus on data customisation. They need to put in place an organisational culture and competencies that support data mining, data tracking and analysis of information to their advantage. In doing so, they will be able to obtain deep insights that would help enhance their understanding of their target audiences’ behaviour, remove biases, and create exceptionally targeted messaging.

Working from the inside out
Joanne Painter, group MD, Icon Agency (Australia)
The events of the past two years have seen sensationalised messaging from traditional media go into overdrive, resulting in less impact and audience fatigue. Particularly around health messaging from the Government. So don't underestimate the power of working with your internal stakeholders to help them become your key communications advocates and harness the power of more personal and direct networks. Depending on the job at hand, this can mean anything from engaging employees to help amplify your brand purpose, industry stakeholders and associations to validate your message and community cultural leaders to help guide your message so that it actually cuts through.

Taking the lead in tackling disinformation
Diana Marszalek, senior reporter, PRovoke Media
With disinformation still running rampant, the PR industry needs to take the lead in thwarting the spread of falsehoods, which will also help clients avert crises in the process. Having invested in data and analytics capabilities, agencies have the framework to expand the small but growing number of tools and platforms that can use social listening and media monitoring capabilities to find and counter damning content before it reaches mass audiences. Not only can PR firms spare clients from reputational blows, but they can also provide an invaluable public watchdog service.

Employee engagement as a viable offering
Maja Pawinska Sims
Pre-Covid, employee engagement was perhaps seen as one of the less exciting supporting actors of PR. The pandemic, however, accelerated it overnight into the star of the show, as a business-critical function when every organisation was focused on the health and wellbeing of its people, and executives (themselves forced to adjust to new, more empathetic leadership and communication styles) had to reassure and update their teams as they switched to new ways of working. This year, I’d like to see more PR consultancies develop employee communications into fully-fledged business offerings. Let’s not lose momentum on the discipline that has helped to solidify PR's seat in the C-suite.