Saying that 2021 has flown by would be an understatement for most of us. The year has seen us all worry about pandemic, politics and pressures (both professionally and socially).
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer report released earlier this year, amidst the difficulties the world seems to be undergoing, businesses have garnered an increase in amount of trust, in comparison to NGOs, governments and media. The pandemic has clearly added persistent personal and societal woes.
On the PR front, professionals in this space have had to pivot their jobs to tackle the myriad of issues consumers and employees are facing. From mental health, physical health, job losses, climate change, cyber-attacks, cancel culture – the topics are endless. Moreover, the pressure mounts on as businesses are now held at a higher regard to fill voids left by the governments. Consumers now expect CEOs and businesses to step in when the governments do not fix societal problems; they want organizations to bring about change and hold themselves accountable to the court of public opinion and not just to the board of directors or stockholders.
As such, the role of the communications professional – who often acts as the whisperer to the CEOs ears in times of crisis – has become more important than ever before. In light of this, we asked our PR industry friends on what are some areas they are focused on in 2022.
Hanks Lee, general manager – corporate communications, A.S. Watson Group
Amidst COVID-19, we expect more customers to interact with each other online. At the same time, customers have been telling us that they long for face-to-face experiences, and desire to have a human touch with brands. Therefore, brands need to effectively communicate with the public by leveraging both offline and online touchpoints, and create a unique experience.
In 2021, physical events came back, but with limitations imposed by the government. It’s expected that more real life interaction will take place next year, and brands need to think out-of-the-box to actively engage customers. Hybrid events will still be inevitable, so creating a great experience for both offline and online audience is key.
In addition, it’s important for brands to communicate their social purpose and resonate with the public. This allows brands to stay focused in communicating common values in society (rather than talking about the differences), and contributes to the betterment of society.
Our observation is that customers will care more about sustainability and will select brands which are close to their values. So investing and communicating more within the realm of sustainability can help uplift a brand’s involvement in the community, and bringing the brand closer to more customers in a polarised world.
In times of uncertainty when brands are pulled into the spotlight, the principles of transparency and responsive are important - timely responses with accurate information is what keeps a brand credible.
James Hacking, senior vice president and partner of BlueCurrent Hong Kong
The more things change, the more things stay the same. People say that the world has changed irrevocably in 2021 with COVID-19 transforming the way people both work and play. This may be true, but it shouldn’t affect the role of the PR industry.
A large part of the value we provide to our clients, is coming up with insightful and creative ways and creating content to connect with those who matter to them. Our strategies and approaches may have differed this year but our
hasn’t and never will.
Companies, brands and people often worry excessively about dealing with those who hold a different view from their own. In my mind, this can often be a waste of time and energy. We all know that getting people to change their opinion can be very hard, for a large number of psychological and social reasons, so why try and "deal" with polarised consumers and netizens?
Instead, listen to people who hold divergent views, hear their rationale and welcome their thoughts. Your own thinking may evolve in ways you hadn’t expected.
Lara Jefferies, managing director of PLUG
Businesses across all industries faced multiple challenges over the past two years. One of the biggest lessons we took away is to be prepared for the unexpected and to be willing to talk about and plan for uncomfortable scenarios. There’s been a spotlight on the vital role of PR in helping businesses navigate these challenges - both external and internal - and the importance of consistent, transparent and authentic communication.
Going forward, companies will be forced to communicate more and be transparent. Many of the important issues that have surfaced in 2020 and 2021 will not fade with the pandemic. Companies have been challenged by their customers and employees to communicate their stance on key issues from staff welfare, to diversity to inclusion and politics. Decisions and communications made during this year will need accountability and follow-through next year. We expect PR to continue to take the lead as we move out of the pandemic.
A company’s reputation management and employer branding strategy will also become increasingly important as businesses fight to attract and retain top talent within an increasingly disenchanted workforce. Successful companies will be those that have done the groundwork and are clear on their purpose and values and can cut through the noise to communicate these.
Coming out of the last two years, a majority, if not all brands have experienced dealing with polarised consumers and netizens. During this time, smart businesses have been introspective, asking some tough questions around their values, purpose and ultimately what and who they stand for.
Being clear on these values and purpose, and getting key stakeholders aligned and on board is the guiding force that will shape a company’s response when dealing with polarised consumers and situations.
Eiswein Wong, Vanesse Lai, co-founders of Start PR
The demand of digitalisation ,and hybrid model of campaigns has certainly become one of the biggest challenges. It seems contradictory to say so, but the truth is that Hongkongers desire entertainment, yet safety is still the most significant concern they have when it comes to deciding what type of entertainment events can be organised.
Budget is no longer the most challenging concern, but rather judgment and planning of the event has taken the limelight.
We have to now ask: How do we capture and capitalise the audience's attention at no cost of health risk and criticism? How do we organise concerts and shows with the limitation of traffic with profits maximised?
While the rise of digital literacy is beneficial to the spread of information for many marketers, it is a double edged sword. Marketers may also feel anxious about that as netizen's opinion can be seen at anytime anywhere, with no ability of concealing. Hence, having preventive measures and plans becomes extremely important.
To avoid the outbreak of negative issues, brands as well as their representatives should be aware of their published content, such as speeches, blogs and social feeds and ensure not to make any irrelevant commentary. Respecting and embracing differences is the foundation of communication. To create a human touch is the most powerful shield a brand can have in case o a calamity or fault. That's the true power of branding.
Desmond Ku, founder and director of The Bridge Agency
Our plans in 2021 can hardly meet the challenges or changes in 2021. COVID-19 control measures imposed by the government have been changing and we have to react rapidly to respond to clients' needs.
Looking forward, 2022 will be even more challenging as the market will evolve even faster. Things that are viral currently, lose the audience's heart very soon. For example, previously brands loved to collaborate with celebrities but influencers are gaining traction amid the pandemic. What a PR practitioner can do is to keep their fingers on the pulse of the market.
When it comes to polarised consumers and netizens, I believe that PR practitioners need to go back to the basics and ask themselves about PR objectives of a campaign. They need to be based on these objectives to formulate PR strategy. However, keeping track of the latest trends is always a must.
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