From ChatGPT to climate communications: 2023 PR predictions

To kick off the new year I was asked to give a prediction to PR Week about what 2023 might have in store for communications…and for communicators.

You can see that piece here – with some fascinating ideas posed by the industry about which way the wind is blowing…

Having been asked to give just one prediction of 23 words, I of course gave three… (make of that what you will).

Here they are.

PR prediction 01:

AI will come of age. It will shift from a party trick to being a credible and viable part of the comms toolkit.

The rise of ChatGPT (gaining 1 million users in a week during December 2022, and a huge planned investment from Microsoft in parent OpenAI) has shown the potential for this technology, and some of the risks.

AI tools can now churn out more than passable first drafts of content, and  communicators (as well as media organisations) will no doubt increasingly turn to using this kind of technology to replace static templates, reducing time spent drafting “BAU” content.

More ambitiously, the 2021 Cannes Lions winning Messi Messages campaign showed the role that AI can play (is playing) for brand marketing.

But this kind of generative AI will also be used to augment other forms of owned content – including internal communications – providing business leaders new ways to creatively engage with their people (consider a CEO using an AI avatar to deliver messages at scale, in different languages, across time zones), as well as providing new opportunities to enhance training experiences, especially crisis simulation.

The challenge, then,  will be to redefine, and focus on, the value that creative human input provides. That’ll be the 10% that takes content from being passable to truly excellent, authoritative, engaging and impactful.

At the same time there will be a new trust dynamic for brands, the media and audiences to navigate. Information consumers will increasingly want, and need, to tell the difference between machine created content and human created content. This will require new proofs of authenticity for ‘genuine’ human productions and authoritative journalistic content, with these carrying more, or different, weight in terms of shaping opinion and contributing to brand trust.

PR prediction 02:

Credibility on the climate emergency will make or break reputations. The heat will be turned up on those brands that fail to adapt.

Clearly not every brand can have a direct positive impact on addressing climate change itself. It would be inauthentic of them to pretend otherwise.

At the same time many established brands will face public and political criticism, and corresponding reputation risk, for being perceived as ‘part of the problem’. This will include, in particular, those entities who will play, and indeed are playing, an essential role in providing the skills, infrastructure and investment needed for a rapid transition towards clean energy and a circular economy.

But, every brand can, and will be expected to, play a part – even a small one.

For some this will be essential in terms of retaining, let alone growing, investment funds and market share among more discerning and scrutinous investors, customers and clients, and building valuable long-term relationships with business partners. Just consider the activist stance taken by some Glencore investors recently.

For others it will be critical to attracting and retaining talent, who increasingly treat brands with questionable climate credentials with short shrift.

Wherever brands find themselves in this landscape, climate will be part of the communications conversation.

Actions will define how resilient brands are (and how successful the global push to combat the effects of climate change is), but it will also be important for brands to be seen to be acting – in order to preserve brand equity and reputation amongst critical stakeholders.

PR prediction 03:

More brands will realise they live in glass houses. People and culture issues are now highly visible external reputation factors. Don’t throw stones. 

While the robots may be coming, the dystopian interpretation of prediction number one can be taken too far. In reality, people still count…hugely.

The war for talent, the cost-of-living crisis and the rising wave of industrial action (especially in the UK) have demonstrated that people are the lifeblood of businesses, and the economy.

Navigating the challenge of attracting, retaining and inspiring great people is central to both brand and commercial strategy.

At the same time, expectations for information transparency are increasing – above and beyond regulatory requirements. How brands track, assess, report and communicate issues such as diversity, wellbeing and mental health are no longer the preserve of an internal “HR” and recruitment function. These issues are critical to shaping external perceptions and must be addressed head on and jointly by people teams and marketing and comms functions to craft compelling employer brand narratives.

People engagement strategies should be built in the same was as a brand would with consumers – treating people, staff and teams as human beings and not a resource to be deployed. Watch the rebrand of ‘Human Resources’ to ‘People and Talent’ (HR Officer to People Officer etc.) become ubiquitous. As an aside this was a topic of discussion at a recent PM Forum event – summary here.

At the same time, brands will increasingly realise the power of their people to help, or hinder, this imperative.

Brands live in glass houses now. Everything is visible, and anyone throwing stones from the inside can have a catastrophic effect on reputation.

Individuals are more empowered than ever before, and have more outlets, to air grievances in public and shine a spotlight on things companies would rather were left in the shadows. The converse of this is that individual team members also have a platform to be powerful brand advocates which should be embraced as a powerful and influential communications channel.

Comms at the core

Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr famously said that “predicting is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future!”. But I’ve given it my best shot.

What is glaringly clear, though, is that as technological innovation accelerates, the world of work and of society more generally continues to adapt in the aftermath of the pandemic, economies respond to rising inflation, and the looming threat of climate change becomes more and more imminent, effective communications – to retain trust and loyalty, build brand resilience and win the war for talent – will be more vital than ever.

So, let’s do this, 2023. We’re ready for you.

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