After several years of forecasting annual trends at PRovoke Media, last year we decided to change things up, dispensing with a reductive format that often recycled issues and looked backwards as much as forwards. 

The Covid-19 era, along with the Ukraine conflict and widespread economic turbulence, 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've again partnered with a handful of industry leaders from across the globe to describe what we'd like to see play out this year. Hopefully, the ideas featured here will give us all something to aim for in 2023, without ignoring the critical challenges that face the public relations profession. As always, your feedback is welcomed. 

Agencies confronting the billable hours model
Paul Holmes, founder, PRovoke Media
At some point, PR agencies that claim to care about employee mental health — most of them, these days — will need to confront the billable hours model. Striving for maximum billability (while also expecting employees to undergo training and, you know, think occasionally) creates massive stress and is incompatible with a genuinely caring culture. Billable hours are bad for clients too, creating perverse incentives. If it takes you twice as long to think up a strategy or write a press release, you can bill twice as much. How does that make sense? It’s time for a better way.

Embracing Gen Z’s full potential
Barby K Siegel, CEO, Zeno Group
Much has been said about the way Covid-19 changed the way we work, but there has been less of a spotlight on the significant influence Gen Z has had on our “new normal” especially in business. I would like to see organizations embrace Gen Z’s full potential as thought leaders and change agents. Gen Z has and will continue to encourage, if not demand, significant changes in the workplace: shifting office culture, raising the bar on the employer/employee relationship, and acting on DE&I and sustainability commitments. Gen Z’ers are helping to make us better. It is my hope that we can give this generation the recognition they deserve, and the inclusive space to truly thrive. 

Prove that counselling is more effective than cancelling
Arun Sudhaman, editor-in-chief, PRovoke Media
Should PR firms cancel or counsel? It is a question that has become increasingly urgent as public criticism grows of the industry's role in terms of facilitating fossil fuel clients, nefarious governments and other bad actors. If PR firms only worked with clients that boasted unblemished reputations, it would not be much of an industry. And that reflects the tension that often underpins sensitive PR assignments, where ‘ethical' counsel can often help steer an ‘unethical' client in the right direction, towards reform and — hopefully — better behaviour. But the industry needs to become far more savvy in terms of making this case, providing tangible proof of its ability to improve organisations from within. If not, PR firms will continue to serve as a convenient lightning rod for media outrage.

The year of hot or cold tea 
Paul Dyer, CEO, Lippe Taylor
In my book, Friction Fatigue, I talk about the warm tea trap, which is the propensity of big brands to try being something to everyone. This year, I’d like to see more big brands follow the example of the upstarts that have been stealing their market share. Stop trying to be something to everyone and focus on being everything to someone. Pick the niche audiences or subcultures they are going to double down with and make life better for those people. In doing so, they will have earned the right to advertise to everyone about how they made life better for someone.

Progress, not perfection, DEI as business imperative 
Emily Poon, president, Ogilvy PR Asia
With increasing strain on talent as the pandemic continues in its fourth year, and companies at risk of deprioritising diversity initiatives amidst the uncertainty, my hope in 2023 is for the PR industry to treat DEI as a business imperative. The goal is progress, not perfection as I remain optimistic that we will continue pressing on to see greater diversity in leadership, moving away from check-the-box DEI activities to focus on systemic issues in pay inequality, allyship and equitable access. Seeing ground up partnerships where every leader is an inclusive culture carrier will continue to drive the industry forward.

Get an (ESG) education
Maja Pawinska Sims, associate editor, PRovoke Media
So many PR firms now offer consultancy around environmental, social and governance (ESG) but many experts in this complex and fast-evolving arena are becoming concerned that this advice is not always based on a deep understanding of the issues — particularly around the climate crisis. ESG is not simply a rebrand of CSR or ‘purpose-led’ campaigns, let alone promoting ‘green’ products: it usually requires complete business transformation. This year, I’d like to see more PR leaders commit to thoroughly educating themselves and their teams on ESG frameworks, including science, legislation and responsibility to investors and other stakeholders, and even greater pushback from PR professionals when clients request anything that could remotely be construed as greenwashing.

Every company *actually* becomes a tech company
Matt Lackie, global CEO, Axicom
Layoffs across the technology sector position industries from CPG and financial services to energy and transportation for more access than ever to previously difficult-to-attract engineers, developers, and data scientists. This talent will transform legacy brands disrupted by technology into brands reinventing themselves through technology. In 2023, we will see surprising tech-centric stories from age-old companies launching innovative products and services, new ways to engage and deepen relationships with customers, reimagined and resilient supply chains, and more. The opportunity for every company to flex their innovation muscles has never been more real or more required.

Find meaning in the metaverse
Diana Marszałek, senior reporter, PRovoke Media
My hope is the industry resists moving into the metaverse without good reason to be there, as we otherwise could be in for a big time and money suck. While the much-ballyhooed virtual world shows signs of promise (OKCupid last year moved Turkey’s thwarted Pride celebration to Decentraland), the reality is the metaverse as touted is yet to exist and the platforms slated to be part of that interconnected world are populated largely by gamers. PR would do itself a favor by proceeding with caution. 

Communications goes woke
Ayeni Adékúnlé, CEO, BlackHouse Media
Citizen-consumer advocacy and activism must continue to gain ground, leading clients and agencies to push for communications initiatives that show they care about what matters beyond the bottom line, from climate change to DE&I. Some will take a stand, others will work around the lines. But as citizen journalism grows, people lose more trust in governments and countries are drawn deeper into geopolitical agendas, the pressure on business to embrace purpose and shared values will mean companies will look for new ways to win the battles of hearts, minds and pockets. To succeed, PR professionals will become ‘woke’: keen to understand the issues, with an outcome-driven mindset, while avoiding box-ticking. There’ll be good, bad and ugly results. But going woke will become inevitable.

Earned media stepping up to drive business growth
Charlotte Witte, chief client & growth officer EMEA, Weber Shandwick
The priority in 2023 for global clients is to maintain growth, increasing customer loyalty and market share. The case for PR — and the power of earned media — in building trust and navigating crisis and change in a recession is clear, but this time we will see more brands using an earned approach to drive growth and bottom-line sales as well. Data, platforms and techniques will be used to build communities around brands and speed the customer journey. PR can also help brands leverage cultural and social trends to stay relevant, increasing the return on comms investment. And as we saw from successful brands during the pandemic, being creative and helping customers get through tough times — rationally and emotionally — will be the key.