Volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. These words formed an acronym – VUCA – a few years ago summarising how modern life feels for many organisations.
Uncertainty shaped the narrative for much of 2022. Then September’s awful fiscal event brought other elements of the VUCA matrix more clearly into view.
It’s an interesting time to set up a new business, with inflation and cost-of-living concerns nudging the economy towards recession. Amidst the haze, predicting what to expect from 2023 seems like a mug’s game.
We can see this year will be challenging, for sure. We shouldn’t limit our ambition, but nor should we be too hard on ourselves if things don’t go to plan. Getting through it in decent shape, with a happy team that’s proud of its work would be a good outcome for 2023. And there will be opportunities and memorable moments too.
What we won’t see in 2023
Before I continue, I touch on something I don’t think we’ll see this year – even if we hear lots about it. Unless the Conservative Party forces one on itself, I can’t see a general election happening in 2023.
Having been in Number 10 for four months, Rishi Sunak’s team will surely want to hold on for economic recovery before calling an election. After three Prime Ministers and six fiscal events in 2022, this would represent progress of sorts.
Although we’re seeing campaign lines emerging, I expect it will be 2024 before Sunak calls an election. But there are many things that could happen over the coming months that might change this.
What we might see. Trust making a comeback?
This may be optimistic, but I’ll lay it out there. I’m hoping that we are starting to see a shift from the spin and post truth mindset that dispensed with two Prime Ministers in 2022 and saw off Donald Trump’s mid-term campaign in the US.
A focus on building trust, delivering on promises and owning mistakes would represent a big step forward from what we’ve seen.
After the mess that spin has got us into in recent years, I wonder if we’re seeing acceptance that the culture that enables it needs to change. Here’s hoping.
Developments in place and PR in 2023
Here are some things on our radar for the year, covering places, public relations and business.
Housing delivery gets even harder
A market slowdown coupled with the government quietly ditching its manifesto pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year presents a challenging backdrop for housing.
After sitting near the top of the government’s priority list for years, housing did not feature in Rishi Sunak’s Blairite-style five pledges. Keir Starmer’s new year speech that followed it was also circumspect about housing.
This is partly thanks to pressure on the government from backbenchers representing rural and shire constituencies, which forced ministers to step back from their housing targets.
This shift in emphasis is happening alongside increasingly vexed discussions around proposals to build homes in areas across the country. My colleague Tori sets out battle lines in Bristol over any development on any green space in the city.
With an election less than 18 months away, it feels like the housing pledge is politically too difficult to keep. I know from conversations I have that confidence in the process is badly lacking on all sides. It’s up to those engaging communities to rebuild that trust.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to see how the government can achieve its growth ambitions when affordable housing is out of reach for so many people.
Those stuck on housing waiting lists or struggling to save a deposit for a home won’t thank politicians for stepping back from a promise that many elected them on in 2019.
Fresh comms strategies needed
Having adapted to changes since 2020, organisations need to review and adjust their communications in 2023.
We provided fresh strategies for four clients last year and have two live projects on the go now. Changes in audience expectations, channel preferences, spending habits, behaviour and technology all feature in our planning sessions.
One live development in PR facing many organisations is their social presence, and their reliance on Twitter as an engagement platform. While Twitter has long been a popular channel for connecting with influencers and journalists, this could change. Recent updates following Elon Musk’s buy-out of the company saw many users leave. For organisations not sponsoring content or paying for a blue tick, visibility and engagement will be more difficult.
And that’s to say nothing of the febrile atmosphere that makes civil discourse impossible for many who still use it.
It’s therefore a good time to reassess organisations’ use of these channels and ask some simple questions about them. Do they still help to engage your audiences and achieve your objectives in 2023? If not, respond accordingly and use channels that will.
Rise of robots poses challenges and opportunities
This year started with a spike in interest in artificial intelligence (AI) in the PR community. The interest is driven by tools developed by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, which includes the ChatGPT content generating application.
Public relations teams have used AI for years, to support tasks like media analysis, online listening, copywriting and community management. OpenAI’s toolbox takes things up a step. Potential uses include content generation, coding, summarising notes and creating Q&A and messaging documents.
Fears that robots will take people’s jobs are overblown in my view. But this moment feels as big as social media’s arrival on the communications landscape more than a decade ago.
I’ve played with the tools over Christmas to see how they could support my work. It can summarise lengthy posts and produce chaser emails. I’ve tried to use it to arrange text into a user friendly format for databases, with limited success. I can see it having uses in public engagement, which can be admin heavy and costly for clients.
But I am also conscious of my awful experiences at the hands of half-arsed chat bots and recognise its limitations. Much of the content I’ve seen it create is entry level and, as others point out, needs thoroughly checking.
That said, I’m optimistic about the opportunities this presents. Colleagues are looking at how the tools can help us work smarter and deliver great results. It’s a learning and development priority for the year.
Organisations should get familiar with this to understand where it fits into the mix. As with social media developments and the decline of print media, change is coming whether we like it or not. Those who continue to work as if it’s not relevant to them will be more at risk than those who take time to understand it.
We’ll keep you updated on how we get on. Here are some useful things we’ve read over recent weeks, from public sector practitioners and industry experts. Expect to see much more on this, good and bad, over the coming months.
Team culture (and good comms) matters more than ever
Our small team had a mixed start to the year. We’ve had new babies arrive, unexpected losses and big birthdays over the festive period. It brought home to me that, while this year will be tough, none if it matters as much as family, health and happiness.
Holding that perspective will make it easier to support teams during tough times. It also gives us a better chance of working with good people and growing into the business we aspire to be.
And good comms people will be needed in 2023, more than ever. Whatever the economic conditions, and whatever the bots say, we’ll still be here. Helping clients deliver transformational projects. Supporting purposeful businesses. Agitating for a better way to do things. I’m looking forward to cracking on with this.
Whatever happens, I hope this year is kind to you.
This post first appeared on Distinctive Communications’ website on 18 January.