2021 Reflections and 2022 Predictions


As we kick-off the new year, the Reputation Partners team took a moment to reflect on some key PR takeaways from 2021, and expectations for the year to come. The headline for 2022? It’s multi-faceted, but the challenges and opportunities of last year are not going away. We’ll see more competition for attention – and talent, as well as companies looking to double down on growth while facing regulatory and employee scrutiny at every turn. Take a look!

2021 Key Learnings and Reflections

Evolve or Get Left Behind

“Unfortunately, 2021 saw the continuance of pandemic-driven news cycles. This forced agencies and brands to scrap their “return to normal” communications strategies and continue to evolve to maintain relevance. Those who evolved tactics, tied media relations campaigns to the latest pandemic-related news cycles, and most importantly, adopted an agile pitching mentality throughout the organization, reaped the benefits. Such benefits included: increased media coverage that influenced stakeholders, improved share of voice over competitors, and elevated brand awareness. The key lesson: train spokespeople to be comfortable tying organizational key messaging to broader news cycles even if trending topics are more sensitive (ex: the pandemic), and as an organization, be comfortable engaging in topics driving front page headlines. If done correctly, risk can be mitigated and reward can be ample.” – Michael Grimm

Thought Leadership is More Than a Buzzword

“2021 reminded PR that authority does matter. Although thought leadership is now a casual term thrown around to executives, this common buzzword holds important weight. Executive visibility allows leaders to gain immense credibility within their industry and positions them as a trusted and reliable source. Once properly executed, this platform will help establish powerful connections (and position them as experts to the media), as well as thoughtfully engage both new and old audiences.” – Haley Hartmann

“More than just traditional media outlets, the avenues for companies to show their expertise continue to broaden. There are influencers, bloggers and vloggers discussing nearly every topic under the sun. Last year, we saw companies and leaders creatively explore alternative ways to highlight their “leadership.” New Belgium provided one of my favorite examples, by launching a climate-impacted, foul-tasting beer to call on the brewing industry to take action on sustainability measures.” – Frances Fyten

Navigating Uncertainty

“The biggest takeaway from the past year is how much communicators have had to deal with uncertainty. Organizations that have best managed through the last 18-24 months have done so by remaining focused on their stakeholders’ expectations and being clear and direct in their communications with them – even when there is no update or the update is that there remains a high level of uncertainty. Those who failed to communicate clearly, or at all, caused audiences to seek information from outside sources. Subsequently, these organizations found themselves in a reactive position as they responded to outside information vs a proactive position as the trusted, primary source of information stakeholders want them to be.” – Andrew Moyer

“My key takeaway this year is that the PR industry is constantly changing and evolving; communication is never a one size fits all. The last two years have shown that you can never truly be 100% prepared for everything, so learning how to adapt and communicate under pressure is one of the best skills a company, individual, or organization can have.” – Stephanie Carlson

Reinventing Recruitment and Retention Strategies

“Throughout 2021, organizations across the globe faced a common obstacle: recruiting and retaining talent. To stand out when competing for talent, organizations of all sizes needed to reconceptualize what it meant to be a part of their organizations in a way that resonated with a multi-generational and evolving workforce. By overhauling that narrative and deploying a data-driven and digital approach to identifying and engaging talent, organizations began to see increased success when it came to recruitment – a trend that we’ll continue to see grow throughout 2022.” – Paige Borgman

2022 Predictions

The Power of Citizen Journalism and Influencers

“The first major trend I see is that citizen journalism and the power of influencers will really accelerate in 2022. This is due to two factors: one, the further breakdown/erosion in the public’s confidence in institutions such as the media. Survey after survey has shown that “people like me” are the most credible sources of information. A second factor is simply the ever-quickening disappearance of traditional journalists due to ongoing cost-cutting at legacy media outlets.

This trend will cut both ways: organizations will need to cultivate influencers in a way they haven’t before if they want to get their stories told. At the same time, these same organizations will have to take the observations, inquiries and critiques they receive from citizen journalists and influencers much more seriously than ever before. Ignoring or dismissing them can have significant negative reputation and valuation consequences.” – Nick Kalm

Employee Engagement Will Take Center Stage

“With the “Great Resignation” showing no signs of stopping into 2022, expect companies to invest in greater employee engagement strategies to retain valuable talent. According to a recent poll by Gallup, happy and engaged employees are no more likely to leave their gigs than pre-pandemic, signaling the need for business leaders to better meet employees’ financial, physical and mental needs, as well as honor more flexibility and practice empathetic leadership. The workforce as a whole has changed, and employers must adapt to meet employees where they have since landed.” – Gene White

The Virtual (and Hybrid) Event is Here to Stay

“The recent surge of Covid-19 has dashed many hopes of in-person events through the first quarter, at least. This means companies must invest in the right capabilities to lead seamless, successful and engaging virtual events for the long term. Even if events return to an in-person format in 2022, a hybrid strategy will likely be the best option for most firms, who will find value in extending the longevity of virtual or hybrid events through some form of digital engagement, either before or following an event.” – Gene White

“Hybrid investor events are here to stay. While travel restrictions initially caused face-to-face investor meetings to go virtual, companies have found that virtual events are a powerful way to build engagement with audiences and reach more people cost-effectively. Investors will continue to increase their reliance on other digital sources and platforms in the year ahead. A comprehensive IR website remains the top resource for due diligence and investment decision-making, with social media and third-party investor platforms increasingly being used by investors as additional research tools.” – Marilyn Vollrath  

“While the world becomes accustomed to staying home, people still have a desire for real-time interactions and experiences. A travel influencer can take their followers on an adventure with them and answer questions live. A panel of thought leaders can answer real time questions the same as they would at an in-person event. A great way for communications professionals to help their clients stay relevant to their consumers is by encouraging live events – even if virtually.” – Fred Walls

ESG + CSR: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) will continue to be a growing focus for purpose-driven companies of all sizes. Regulatory bodies are strengthening reporting requirements and CSR and ESG budgets continue to increase while companies scale back in other areas. Investors, employees, customers and communities will expect more transparency around environmental factors, human capital, the health and safety of employees, and especially diversity and inclusion.” – Marilyn Vollrath

“I think we will see is a ratcheting up of expectations for companies of all sizes to make and communicate meaningful ESG commitments.  No more will “glossy” and aspirational but empty sustainability reports suffice. Why is that? More and more consumers and other members of the public expect companies to not just “talk the talk” but “walk the walk” when it comes to social responsibility.  And the advocacy/activist/labor groups that have long been there will continue to keep the pressure on.  But the big difference now is small and large investment groups and rating agencies are launching proxy fights and other investor initiatives focused on demanding change at a board level.” – Nick Kalm

Content is King and its Reign Shall Continue

“Social media videos combine two things that society loves- visuals and connection. Connecting with family, friends or brands feels more real when video brings it to life. Combine that with an endless amount of tutorials and product reviews, it’s no wonder people spend more time scrolling through their timelines than streaming their favorite show. With the right strategy, communications professionals can take advantage of this.” – Fred Walls

“Owned content will continue to rise to become a top priority for smart organizations. Whether through blogs, social media and/or video series, among others, developing a library of in-house owned content will be the best way for organizations to consistently share (and fully control) their thought leadership and tell stories on topics of importance that best reach their internal and external key audiences. While not a replacement for other tactics (i.e., media relations), enhancing owned content will help round out any company’s communications strategy in 2022 and beyond.” – Brendan Griffith

Unionization is on the Rise

“There will continue to be a significant uptick in unionization efforts across the country. The last two years of turbulence as a result of COVID has created serious distrust of employers among employees, and loyalty is waning (if not gone). This creates an environment ripe for unionization, as employees are open to pursuing any avenue (even if unionization might not be in their best interest) they think will provide financial security and improve their overall work situation. To employers: Beware.” – Brendan Griffith

Accountability Related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

“Over the past two years, major political and societal events forced businesses around the world, but especially in the United States, to take action related to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). Many organizations had pledged to hit specific goals or implement new policies related to DE&I. Internal and external stakeholders will be scrutinizing the progress towards those commitments in 2022 and those organizations that have missed the mark will need to redouble their efforts or deal with the fallout.” – RJ Bruce