Arun Sudhaman 12 Dec 2022 // 9:52AM GMT
After two years that were dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the hope was that 2022 would offer a rather less dramatic set of circumstances. Unfortunately, that didn't quite unfold as planned — the Covid-19 era continues to linger, while the world also contended with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a significantly worsening economic environment in many countries.
And while all of these trends have served to reshape how we live, work and communicate, there seems little doubt that they have also extracted a significant emotional toll on an industry that typically prides itself on empathy and understanding. While the PR sector has continued to thrive amid these challenges, there is much to ponder in terms of how agencies and in-house departments adapt to the post-Covid world.
As ever, our most popular longreads reflect this picture in full, forming a crucial element in our 2022 Review. It is worth noting that our longreads always get the most traction, even ahead of most of our top news articles, which we will rank later this week. And please do bear in mind that, of course, some of these articles are now gated behind our Premium Content section.
For now, enjoy our most popular analysis and features, all of which combine to form an invaluable microcosm of the issues that dominated public relations thinking in 2022, for better or for worse:
1. The Reputational Risks Of Doing Business In Russia
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February triggered a vast array of consequences, including serious questions for global brands operating in the country. Maja Pawinska Sims' analysis of the reputation implications for global corporates quickly became essential reading on the topic, examining in depth the considerations and risks of corporate action in response to the Ukraine invasion. Blending expert comment and sophisticated context, the story not only broke down the issues in play, but skilfully depicted the bigger picture in terms of the changing role business plays when it comes to geopolitical events in today's world.
2. 2022 Agency Rankings: Global PR Industry Bounces Back With 11% Growth
While we typically disqualify rankings stories, 2021 was no ordinary year — and the release of our 2022 Rankings was, as a consequence, keenly awaited as a crucial barometer of the PR industry's ability to recover from the worst of the Covid-era. And so it proved, with the industry registering 11% growth in 2021 to underline its resurgence after declining 4% in 2020. More importantly, perhaps, the results suggested that the PR sector is embracing its potential in terms of strategic counsel, creative innovation and sector-specific expertise — reflecting the manner in which the Covid-19 crisis has reinforced and elevated the critical value of empathetic public relations across multiple stakeholder groups.
3. Cannes: Ranking the 2022 Gold PR Lions Winners
Paul Holmes' ranking of Cannes Gold PR Lions remains one of our most popular features, and this year proved to be no exception, despite a disappointing crop of winners. Indeed, Holmes described the 2022 edition as a "profoundly unexciting year for the public relations Lions, both in terms of the complete absence of public relations agencies in the Gold categories and the quality of the creative ideas". In particular, this year's crop of winners underscored two of the key problems that Cannes Lions has with its treatment of PR: first, the focus on stunt-driven work to the exclusion of almost everything that makes PR special; and second, the focus on metrics that the profession more or less universally rejected more than 20 years ago.
4. Analysis: A Turning Point In The Disinformation War?
Russia's invasion of Ukraine not only turned the spotlight onto brand boycotts, but also highlighted the perils of the disinformation war that had been waged by Moscow for a decade. In this in-depth analysis, Paul Holmes examined the rise of information warfare, the various actors and media involved, and the implications for professional communicators.
5. Four Questions CCOs Should Be Ready To Answer In 2022
Another piece from Paul Holmes, this one looked ahead at the key issues that were likely to define 2022 for chief communication officers. As we move into 2023, those questions — covering employee advocacy, female reproductive rights, geopolitical risk and threats to democracy — are as pertinent as ever.
6. 2022 Creativity Study: Diversity Of Talent Emerges As Critical Challenge
After a four-year hiatus, the Creativity in PR study returned in 2021 to document the impact of the pandemic, following up with a 2022 version that further illuminated how the PR industry's creative credentials have shifted irrevocably. This particular article from the series focused on talent findings, uncovering not only competitive challenges but also insight into retention, recruitment, skills, leadership and diversity.
7. CEO Roundtable: Cannes Is Not The Only Measure Of PR’s Importance
There was a palpable sense of relief in being able to finally reconvene our long-running industry CEO roundtable in Cannes this year, rather than the virtual versions of the past couple of years. And the return to in person events on the Croisette no doubt helped to explain the high-quality nature of this year's discussion, which saw industry leaders make clear that Cannes cannot be viewed as the sole measure of PR's importance, particularly amid a pandemic that had only reinforced the sector's value.
8. Analysis: As Easy As ESG?
The PR industry has been quick to capitalise on the ESG boom, but this longread explored how a wide-ranging backlash has opened up a significant disconnect between specious rhetoric and measurable progress. The onset of regulation, amid rising scepticism about whether companies can genuinely square their profit-seeking motives with saving the planet, suggests that governmental oversight is increasingly required to resolve this particular dilemma — all of which will have significant implications for corporate communicators.
9. PR Firms Ponder Whether To Counsel Or Cancel Fossil Fuel Clients
Opposition to PR agency work for big energy companies has been growing for some time, but 2022 was probably the year when it went mainstream, with pressure campaigns from advocacy group Clean Creatives leading to scrutiny from both the UN General Assembly and the US Congress. Soon afterwards, Clean Creatives expanded its pledge that PR agencies cease fossil fuel client work in Asia, resulting in this event in partnership with Vero, PRovoke Media and the PRCA. As discussions go, this one was feistier than most, but also served to once again raise many of the ethical issues that have long dogged the industry.
10. India Roundtable: What Comms Leaders Have Learned From The Covid-19 Era (Part One)
At the start of this year, PRovoke Media and Adfactors unveiled a two-part series that convened India's communications leaders to examine how the PR playbook has been transformed by the experiences of the past two years. The first instalment focused on traditional corporate powerhouses, and no doubt attracted more attention than most thanks to provocative commentary from Amazon's Minari Shah, who challenged agencies to catch up with their clients. Ultimately, though, the conversation was a poignant reminder of the human challenges that senior communicators in the country have had to content with in the Covid-era.