9 things for the PR agenda in 2023

After a busy and effective year for a PR industry on top of its game, there’s sure to be no slowdown in 2023 given the massive and multiple challenges ahead.

Source: Getty Images.

This is my 45th and final blog of 2022 and it’s always interesting to pause, reflect and look forward at this time of year.

On rereading my final missive of 2021 it’s clear we were all in a very different place than we are 12 months on, still reeling from the shock and loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and fundamental disruption to our lives.

But, through it all, PR has continued to demonstrate its unique value as a vital part of organizational operation and transformation. Client-side and agency leaders opine on their thoughts and concerns about 2023 here.

In lockstep with the wider industry, PRWeek has also stepped up in 2022 and was named best team in our parent company Haymarket Media's U.S. and Global Awards. Congrats to all concerned and thanks for all your efforts. 

If we’ve learned anything in recent times it’s that nothing is predictable, but here are nine thoughts to end the year with and look forward to whatever 2023 brings us.

1.  The economy

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said on Squawk Box last week the word “recession” wouldn’t be in his vocabulary if he wasn't watching CNBC. He said Q3 was the best operational quarter in the company’s history by most metrics. But he tempered that a little this week by saying United is prepping for a “mild” economic recession in 2023.

Delta’s CEO Ed Bastien predicted a 15-20% increase in revenue in 2023 compared to this year and said: “We’ve seen our recession. Consumers are prioritizing their spend, where they’re making choices, and they’re prioritizing investing in themselves and experience.”

Clearly, airlines are part of a travel industry that’s bouncing back strongly following the COVID shutdown and JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said this year’s elevated consumer spending wouldn’t last much longer and inflation and rate hikes were likely to start a recession in 2023.

Each industry and sector is experiencing its own microeconomic climate but, overall, the IMF expects the U.S. economy to grow 1% next year, so let’s be careful not to talk ourselves into a recession.

2.  Twitter

I’m as bored with the seemingly never-ending Elon Musk Twitter saga as I am with the Harry and Meghan/Royal Family spat, but the CEO’s continued erratic statements on the platform he recently acquired do nothing to persuade me this is a safe environment for brands and companies.

At the start of November, I recommended brands should push the pause button on Twitter and nothing I’ve seen so far in the new Elon-run platform has changed that opinion. It’s got nothing to do with being “woke”. It’s about brand safety and ensuring marketing and advertising exists in a safe and stable environment. Advertisers don’t owe Elon Musk's Twitter a living.

3. TikTok

The scale and influence of TikTok is extraordinary, especially among younger demographics who increasingly use the platform for search as well as entertainment and, in some cases, pretty much their entire existence. But TikTok remains controversial and problematic for many on both the right and the left of the political divide, principally due to its Chinese ownership by ByteDance and concerns about data and national security.

The Senate passed a bill to ban TikTok on government devices, which still needs to be approved by the House and signed by President Joe Biden. Some states are barring public employees from using the app on government devices. The platform has also been dinged for fostering disinformation about mental health. This is the thin end of the wedge and expect the new super-marketing platform to face many other challenges in 2023, even though its consumer usage and engagement shows no sign of waning.

4. PR agencies

It’s always good to end the year by checking in with a global PR agency leader to check how they see the state of their business as we head into another calendar year.

Speaking on The PR Week podcast, Ketchum president and CEO Mike Doyle said 2022 had been “spectacular,” with the proviso that, like any agency in this topsy-turvy industry, it had experienced both “glorious” and “gloomy” days thru the year. He added the Omnicom firm will end the year having delivered “more [record-breaking] growth and stellar financial and business performance” than it had for almost two decades. It retained its top 20 global clients and expanded many of them organically.

Doyle’s story backs up the stats we’ve been seeing across the board at PR firms in 2022, and the collection of data for our Agency Business Report to illustrate a year of growth on top of a stellar 12 months in 2021 starts early in January.

5. It’s PR’s time

Also in this week’s podcast, Ketchum’s Doyle noted that the first call made in 2020 by company CEOs at the start of the pandemic was to the head of HR, legal and operations, but also the chief communications officer, the individual(s) responsible the reputation of the organization but also the health and safety, wellbeing and humanity of the people employed therein.

CCOs were either already in that position or they were welcomed into conversations they wouldn’t normally have been part of, in a different way with a different voice. He said PR is seen in a different light and “shame on all of us if we cede that” and that this was a “beautiful aspect of a difficult few years.” It backs up PRWeek’s coverage this year of an industry that’s never been held in such high esteem and charged with delivering such value.

6. Crisis comms

Doyle credited issues and crisis management as one of the key drivers of Ketchum’s growth in 2022 and that’s reflected across the board. PRWeek is digging deeper into this part of the PR profession next year with its inaugural Crisis Comms Conference, which will take place in DC on April 12-13.

It will equip delegates with the tools they need to manage corporate and brand crises, navigate social media snafus and personal reputation issues. It will deliver insightful case studies, best practice techniques and inspiring narratives to help PR people navigate some of the most challenging aspects of the profession. It will also analyze the complex and elusive art of ensuring crises don’t emerge in the first place, because PR teams took care of it before it broke. Make sure this exciting new event is on your calendar.

7. The work

The PRWeek Awards 2023 shortlist was unveiled on Tuesday and it represents a mightily impressive body of work that illustrates the progress the industry is making and the impacts described above. With around 65 different PR firms and lots of blue-chip brands represented on the shortlist, these case studies represent the gold standard of the profession and the winners crowned in NYC on March 16 will truly live up to the title of Oscars of PR that others can aspire to emulate.

For all the talk, the PR industry is fundamentally about the work. And these campaigns and the teams and individuals collaborating to deliver this work are a testament to the expertise and depth of the industry.

8. Procurement

The payment terms that participants in the recent Keurig RFP are being asked to sign up to have caused uproar in the marketing services industry and sparked a debate about procurement generally. The owner of brands including Dr Pepper and 7 Up in the U.S. and Snapple, Sunkist, Green Mountain Coffee, Peet's Coffee and other marques globally wants to compensate its agencies on 360 days payment terms.

Keurig claims to support DE&I on its website but it's difficult to see how expecting diverse small and medium-sized businesses to subsidise a client with almost a year of credit is in any way helping diversify is supply chain in a sustainable manner. 

Brands need to walk the walk on purpose rather than just talking the talk, and egregious instances such as this just won't cut the mustard in 2023.

9. 6 things to do to wrap the year

·       Salary Survey – it’s the most credible benchmark of compensation and conditions in the PR industry. Please take a few minutes out of your day to fill in the survey and help us best reflect current trends.

·       Dashboard 25 – communications technology, data and analytics are crucial to modern PR practice and Dashboard 25 is the definitive list of movers and shakers in the sector across media monitoring services, newswires, social media management, in-house client teams and PR agencies. Enter your key comms tech operatives for consideration by submitting an application here by December 20.

·       Women of Distinction/Women to Watch – this initiative honors inspiring women who set the bar higher within their organizations, as well as up-and-comers who represent the next generation of female leaders. You have until January 20 to nominate your peers and colleagues here.

·       Healthcare Awards – PRWeek’s second awards to celebrate the best of the best in the fastest-growing area of communication comprises 17 categories honoring brands, campaigns, teams and individuals. Make sure your brand or agency is represented by entering here – first deadline is December 21, extended deadline is January 12.

·       Global Awards – the 10th iteration of PRWeek’s Global Awards champion the power of PR and communication across the world. In London on May 9, we will celebrate the organizations that tell their stories in a way that transforms behavior on an international stage. The final entry deadline is January 26 – submit your entries.

·       Agency Business Report – the biggest annual review of the PR agency sector opens for submissions early next year, so look out for communication around that on all our usual channels.

When you do get a chance to pause for a well-earned break over the holidays I wish you a safe and restful time with your families and friends and look forward to interacting with you in the brave new world of 2023. Thank you for your support this year - it is genuinely appreciated.

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