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Talent, Scandal, Trust: What we're all going to be talking about this year

We asked industry leaders what they think will dominate the conversation in 2022

By Elliot Leavy

It may seem unsurprising that when asked, “What story or theme do you predict will dominate our media and grab our attention in 2022?” most replies from industry leaders across the spectrum focused on either trust, talent, or the effects of the ongoing pandemic. 2022 is looking a like like 2021 in this regard, however, with the end in sight, there is license to be a bit more hopeful this time around.

Charlie Rudd, chief executive, Leo Burnett

I don’t think many of us expected Covid to be still dominating our media as we start 2022. I have lost count of the times we have caught ourselves talking about our ‘post-Covid’ world when realising we are unfortunately still right in the midst of it. So sadly I think we will still be dealing with Covid and its effects for much of 2022. However I think we will increasingly see that the ‘midst of Covid’ state won’t be that different to the post-Covid state, when we do eventually get there.

So we will see more ‘future of work’ articles which are in fact the present of work. We will see more articles on the dramatic growth in TV viewing in all its formats. And we will continue to see growth in all the social channels which keep us connected. But one thing I hope we will also see is more celebration and focus on the power of what we do.  Marketing has proven extremely resilient despite the challenges of the last couple of years. Yes, there were some scary old moments back in Spring 2020 but unlike many other downturns, it feels as though marketeers have realised that cutting back in challenging times will often make a difficult situation much worse. And as the bounce-back has developed, the winning marketeers are those that had the courage of their convictions. Long may that continue.

Fiona Gordon, chief executive Ogilvy UK

The battle for creative talent will dominate our media in 2022. Twenty-first century brands and businesses all pivot on the intersection of technology and creativity and have changed the nature of attracting and retaining talent. We operate in a world where the consumer is hyper-informed, hyper-connected, who expect customised personalised products, services and value, across every device, every platform, and whose real world and digital existence are basically one of the same. 

Brand experience is everything, everywhere. The talent that can deliver on that fluid landscape will define which businesses thrive. Talent will be needed across all forms of creativity, with data-led thinkers and people who can spot the intersections across insights, commerce and channels to help make the magic happen. There is a great opportunity for our industry to find diverse talent in new places and define the next era of borderless creativity and marketing. 

Kirsten Stagg, head of marketing, Skoda UK

Whilst far from being new news, the ongoing impact of the Covid pandemic on consumers and businesses, together with large-scale global supply challenges (e.g. the semi-conductor shortages that are impacting industries such as automotive and consumer electronics) means it’s likely that proving the return on marketing investment will become an even bigger theme in 2022.

This will likely manifest in conversations around the optimal levels of adspend when supply and/or demand are disrupted and whether brands have the right mix between traditional and digital investment. The fact that these conversations will continue to dominate marketing media in 2022 is due to the fact that the ability to measure marketing investment holistically remains an elusive holy grail for the industry.

Pete Markey, chief marketing officer, Boots UK

In 2022, a theme that will continue to dominate will be the post-cookie world. Importantly this includes the need for brands to ensure they have a clear strategy to build and sustain long term customer relationships. At the heart of this is the need for a true value exchange between brands and their customers where the customer is willing to deepen their relationship with a brand in exchange for sustained ongoing value (e.g. points or exclusive pricing, events, etc).

Kate Howe, executive director, MSQ

Hybrid working, employee care, D2C, brand trust, balancing brand building with demand generation, DE&I and sustainability are all important conversations I expect to continue to dominate our media in the coming year. But I appreciate that’s a melting pot and it’s hard to single out any one that’ll unequivocally dominate. I do, however, think there’ll be an additional emphasis in the industry and in the media on effectiveness.

Ultimately, lots of those initial topics I mentioned end up pivoting towards effectiveness anyway, as they’re all – from employee care to sustainability – in support of the pursuit of growth. And growth cannot come at any price. For the vast majority, the exact opposite is true.

Brand owners are under unprecedented pressure to achieve more with the same or less. They need to be purposeful, they need sustainable supply chains, they need to navigate more channels and more platforms (as well as building and managing their own) and they have more data, more regulation and more risk than ever before. Most are running lean teams too. Risk is high and the best way to negate risk is to be able to demonstrate positive and effective impact.

As we continue to navigate towards a post-pandemic world, creating absolute clarity on what success looks like, setting the right KPIs and effectively reporting against them will become key to managing stakeholder expectations. Of course this isn’t new either, but I predict we’ll be talking more loudly about the need for a much bigger cohort of practitioners – both agency and client-side – who can talk the language of growth, business outcomes and effectiveness if we are to retain marketing’s credibility and build for the future.

Jon Goulding, chief executive, Atomic London

It’s hard to imagine that the WFH/WFO theme won’t dominate an unhealthy amount of our media in 2022. After all the hard work agreeing which days of the week we’re going to allow cats in the office vs dogs in attempt to persuade people back in to the office, now it’s got to start all over again. However, a recent report by The Economist shows that we have to consider how we implement hybrid working more carefully this time around.

Research in the US showed that returning to the office in 2021 had started to reinforce rather than help improve inequalities in the work force. Where young, male, white workers were far more able and likely to return to the office and feel included when they got there. Something we should therefore make sure doesn’t undermine our collective pursuits to improve diversity and inclusion in 2022.

Theo Izzard-Brown, chief strategy officer, McCann London

If recent news coverage is anything to go by the answer is surely more political scandal.

Sadly, communications missteps or outright volte face seem to have become the normal state of play. Though it’s not their prevalence or the public’s fascination and tabloid complicity with scandal that interests me so much as what it reveals about the values we collectively deem meaningful and hold most sacred. The line between public scrutiny and curiosity is often blurred, or as literary critic Phyllis Rose puts it “gossip may be the beginning of moral inquiry. The low end of the platonic ladder that leads to self-understanding. We are desperate for information about how other people live because we want to know how to live ourselves”. This recent volley of political scandals feels significant by virtue of its apparent erosion of ideals relating to authenticity, personal integrity, fairness, and social unity.

As marketing communication professionals in the business of helping to steward brands in the twenty-first century it’s easy to become immune to the importance of our own stentorian advice. Brands who successfully claim a meaningful role in the lives of their customers do so by first uncovering an authentic positioning before acting in accordance with that organising belief. Brands (like people) that operate with consistency and integrity flourish, those that do not are destined to perish.

Matt Holt, chief strategy officer, Digitas UK

It’s obvious that Covid will unfortunately continue to dominate our media and grab our attention in 2022. If the same conversations repeat this time as they did last year, there will be a fervent obsession about ‘getting back to normal’. But the truth is that there is no going back. As the pandemic becomes endemic we need to decide what kind of society and economy we want to have in the future. As a result, media conversations will continue around the opportunity for ‘the great reset’. But with a focus on specific answers, not just talking around the concept. What kind of society do we want to live in? What kind of economy do we want to have? What kind of businesses and brands do we want to build? We need to grasp the opportunity to not just cope with the unrelenting unpredictability of the future but embrace it.

Dan Cullen-Shute, founder, Creature

I'd love to think it won't be Covid, but it probably will be Covid - or at least (he says, with tempered and slightly perverse optimism) the Covid aftermath. Once we reach a point where the world really does kick back into action, the damage the pandemic has wrought is going to become very clear, very quickly; on an economic level (economists would tell us that people are going to be 'feeling the pinch', but I suspect for a lot people it will feel much closer to 'being absolutely fucked'), an an inequality level (standard of living and education gaps have only got wider). So, yeah: hopefully the world will be less furiously on fire, and we won't be obsessing about variants and hospitalisation rates anymore; but when the smoke clears, it's not going to be pretty. Oh, and also, the World Cup. In October! I ask you.

Dom Dwight, marketing director, Taylors of Harrogate

As the Covid pandemic gradually reduces in intensity, I believe the predicted ‘K-shaped recovery’ will start to become much more noticeable – some households who have been insulated from much of the negative impacts, economically speaking at least, will emerge from hibernation with jobs intact and possibly a lot of unspent disposable income in the bank. Other households will be really struggling due to job worries, and experiencing severe financial strain as costs rise across the board.

This schism, combined with political and cultural division on a scale we haven’t seen for decades, will be difficult to navigate. Less so for those brands aimed specifically at either the luxury or the value end, but for brands with a broad base who depend on universal appeal, the job is about to get much more challenging.

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