As we ease our way into 2022, the team here at Martin Waymire has been looking ahead to the top trends that we expect to permeate our industry and the way we support our clients throughout the year. Here are the top issues we see impacting how organizations communicate this year.

An Emphasis on Empathy

There’s no question we live in one of the most polarized times in our country’s history. Whether we’re talking about COVID, politics, climate change, education, sports or pizza toppings (I’m pro-pineapple), there is no question that we are a nation divided. This highly charged environment can be an added challenge for communicators hoping to reach their audiences, especially when it comes to changing consumer behavior.

When trying to sway public opinion – encouraging vaccinations, for example – the first instinct is often to simply allow research and facts speak for themselves. But, as my favorite Cohen Brothers quote says, “it is a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.”

Unfortunately, facts are not enough when your target audience can find what they believe to be a credible person on YouTube who will confirm their preconceived opinion. Successful communications campaigns need to acknowledge an audience’s concerns on an issue and find messengers and messages that tug on the heart strings with the same force, if not more, as their appeal to reason. Combining logic with empathy and emotion will get through to far more audiences this year.

Authentic Diversity, Racial Equity and Inclusion

Simply put: diverse teams perform better. Inclusive companies are more likely to reach their financial goals. People who feel welcome and included in their organization perform better and stay longer. Organizations have known for a while now that diversity and inclusion are important to their success, but too often they have struggled with how to actually become more inclusive in both their words and their actions.

Saying “we’re an equal opportunity employer” or posting a quote from Dr. King on MLK Day isn’t enough anymore (and it really never was). In 2022, organizations that are authentic and intentional in their Diversity Racial Equity and Inclusion (DREI) efforts are the ones that will rise above the rest. That means aligning your organization’s culture with your DREI statements. It means reevaluating business relationships to ensure you are giving opportunities to a diverse set of vendors. It means working harder to recruit and retain talent from all walks of life at every level of the organizational chart. And it requires a strategy that incorporates DREI into everything an organization does and the beliefs of the people within that organization.

Successful organizations in 2022 will be those that fully embrace and incorporate DREI into every aspect of their work.

A Focus on the Measurements that Truly Matter

Measurement is always a tricky conversation in the public relations industry. Some PR pros and agencies love to talk about impressions on a social media post or estimated readership of a news article, and we understand why they do it. Showing a client or a manager that a post received tens of thousands of impressions or that an article that you placed has 250,000+ readers sounds great on paper.

But PR professionals are going to be held to an increasingly higher standard – and should be. What good are all those readership numbers or impressions if they are not actually achieving the organization’s ultimate goal of increased sales, higher vaccination rates or passage of the law that is needed to protect consumers?

The most effective communicators in 2022 will be the ones that put the vanity metrics into context and set realistic benchmarks for their work that tie directly into the bottom line for their organization.

Owned Channels Continue to Grow in Importance

While the pace of the news media’s decline seems to have slowed, the fact remains that the amount of news out there far exceeds local journalisms’ capacity for coverage. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity.

Simply blasting out a press release and expecting coverage is and always has been a terrible strategy. In 2022, successful organizations will need to develop and expand multi-pronged strategies to tell their stories to internal and external audiences.

The most reliable and effective channels are ones that an organization retains full control over. Company newsletters, intranet sites and social messaging tools need to be harnessed to the fullest capacity and given the same attention to detail that a press conference would receive. This doesn’t mean they own the story tellers they feature though. Case studies, personal stories and real experiences provide the third-party validation that helps organizations to build trust and achieve success, and they should be leveraged more than ever before.

Organizations also need to develop a strategy that leverages social media communications to reach their intended audience. It’s important to keep in mind that social media has evolved drastically over the past several years and audiences are more scattered than ever. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are still important, but TikTok is the fastest growing platform. Other platforms like Reddit and Discord may be more popular among certain niche audiences. Organizations need to understand who their audience is, where they interact online and the culture of the platforms they use to ensure they are reaching their audiences effectively.

Hybrid Events and Work are Here to Stay

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s how to be adaptable. Organizations that had never held virtual meetings or online events were thrown into the deep end and forced to sink or swim. Staff meetings, press events, multi-day conferences all shifted online. Love it or hate it, virtual participation is likely here to stay in 2022.

Embracing virtual, however, can’t be done at the cost of authenticity. Culture and transparency should be top of mind for engaging with audiences online. Companies must prioritize making time to build relationships with team members and their audiences. Now that our homes have also become our offices, some of the most successful strategies include relatable, honest content that show the human side of our worlds.

We expect news conferences, board meetings and other single-day events to incorporate online participation throughout 2022. Organizations that invest in the proper technology and have a strategy to fully engage online participants will be the ones that turn this challenge into an opportunity for increased visibility and engagement than would have otherwise been possible in the pre-COVID era.