I realise there is no shortage of PR trends for 2022 articles but I haven't seen some of these trends in other elsewhere so thought it worth sharing.
1. The resurgence of the big international PR firms
It's no secret that the international PR firms owned by the holding companies have had a tough couple of years, actually, that's probably nearer 5 years but there are signs that the mood music in these firms is changing.
COVID gave them the opportunity to re-design their talent profiles by investing in new people with new skills more relevant to modern public relations. This, combined with the reality that in-house comms directors have an increased breadth of work means that they tend to increasingly want a reduced number of points of contact with their agency(ies.) So for those really big PR accounts - one agency globally, or at least across multiple regions, is again in vogue.
2. Linking data to behaviour change
Public relations’ endless debate about measurement data and analytics is one that I've been following for nearly 20 years. People involved in this debate need to stop going on (and on and on) about AVE’s and embrace modern data techniques. You can't redefine best practice by simply having a pop at an old, outdated technique.
There are numerous alternatives out there and AMEC has done some good work with the integrated framework. Increasingly, like most other things in life, technology will help provide the answers. Many of the leading data analytics professionals (working agency side and in-house) are now concentrating on integrating their data sets to show the results of their communications, the end objective being audience behaviour change. I'm not suggesting this is currently normal practice but it is the direction of travel.
The data sets they are using to inform the behaviour change measurement include social listening audience data, media channels data, search data and clickstream data. Single-channel data is becoming limited in its usefulness.
Many issues related to this will be discussed at PRmoment’s PR Analytics online event in March.
Granted, this has been widely covered in other trends for 2022 but it would be just weird to leave it out. Unfortunately, as long as PR firms and in-house teams continue to grow and therefore need to recruit, I don't see a solution.
It’s worth noting that 4 technology PR firms I have recently spoken to in London are currently not taking on any more new business because they can’t recruit quickly enough, and they don’t want to add to their employees’ workload.
The problem is acute: if you're a 100 person agency your employee churn is likely to be about 20% and most PR firms in tech, brands comms, corporate or healthcare grew in H2 2021 at between 15% and about 25%.
So a 100 person business has to find circa 40 new people this year. That is going to be tough to do and that's before you allow for the reality of 20% of poor recruits that don’t work out.
Agencies need to increasingly create good employer brands and show that their employees are doing interesting, worthwhile work with good clients. But even then demand is likely to outstrip supply in PR’s labour market for a while yet.
4. Non-diverse, white, middle-class teams will increasingly struggle to win the big accounts
Very simply because a brand's communications need to be reflective of the society they operate within.
We’ve discussed this issue many times, including a US perspective (where PR buyers are often a bit ahead of their UK counterparts on this issue) back in 2019 on the PRmoment Podcast with Torod Neptune (about 20 mins in) and I sense the momentum has picked up again since then.
5. Will PR retain its increased breadth of responsibility?
As a sector, public relations has had a pretty good COVID, with the obvious caveat if you work in the travel or hospitality sectors.
Business leaders have become more reliant on the advice of their PR and comms people. Will public relations professionals be able to retain this increased breadth of responsibility with deeper strategic and creative consideration? Or will they retreat to their comfort zones of media strategy and activation?
The growth rates of the agencies and the size of in-house budgets in 2022 will tell us.
6. More agencies will become employee-owned
The current tax regulations in the UK mean that there is a large tax incentive for business founders to sell their companies to their employees. For a sector like public relations, where there are numerous independent firms with founder's either looking for an exit or an opportunity to cash in some of their shares, it’s likely that we will see many more examples of employee-owned firms in the sector in the coming years.
The UK Government has also made significant changes to the Entrepreneurs Relief Rules, so this may act as an extra incentive for business owners to take the employee ownership route; founders now only get the lower tax percentage relief on the first £1m they receive from the sale.
Written by PRmoment’s founder Ben Smith.
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