For many of us, 2022 feels not like the start of a new year but an extension of 2020. Two long years and still uncertainty ahead. We can be grateful, of course, that the stretch has been punctuated with moments of normalcy and optimism: visiting family after everyone was vaccinated, enjoying time in the office with colleagues, and sending children back to school to play and learn among their peers rather than alone with a screen. But much about life feels only marginally different—including in thought leadership.
Indeed, we regularly monitor the forces shaping business and society so we can help our clients stay ahead of important conversations and provide distinctive perspectives, and so far this year, even the content trends are reminiscent of years past. We’re expecting to see companies publish extensively on the three trends below this year, and while they’re not entirely new, there are some new angles and approaches that can keep the conversation fresh.
While climate change has been a recurring theme in many companies’ content, especially as part of the larger ESG conversation, the heat is turning up—literally and figuratively. Media outlets are highlighting the consulting and PR firms and ad agencies that are still working with fossil fuel companies. A celebrity-studded mainstream movie took on climate change and those who wield some power over its trajectory. Companies are reconsidering their advertising policies. And research shows that younger generations—those with increasing buying power—are deeply engaged on the issue. There’s real money at stake, along with brand and reputation concerns. So while the crisis we’re facing isn’t new, the accountability factor is gaining ground. Companies should take note by examining their own impact and narrative. We expect to see some clear tonal shifts when it comes to climate change—companies willing to put more of a stake in the ground with more assertive language—which will also have an effect on the competitive landscape.
Stakeholder capitalism—fact or fiction?
Stakeholder capitalism—the idea that companies should serve people other than just shareholders—has been in our lexicon for a while. And in April 2021, we noted that a handful of organizations and their CEOs were going through a “pressure test” on major issues, from their handling of the pandemic to how they were addressing racial inequity. That pressure test is still going, but the cracks are showing in new ways. People are exhausted from the pandemic—and from watching the world’s richest get richer while low-wage workers suffer. Employees and customers have different expectations of the companies they engage with. So the discussion (and scrutiny) is likely to intensify. Blackrock CEO Larry Fink just wrote about it in his annual letter to investors, and the coverage was significant. What’s clear, though, is that new voices and perspectives are needed to advance the conversation and move away from performative platitudes. Whether companies will continue to push the discussion in more tangible ways alongside competing priorities remains to be seen, but the most strategic approach will be finding the white space in a crowded scene.
Workforce—once more with feeling
Mapping out the past two years of workforce and talent content would illustrate several themes: remote and hybrid work approaches; mental and emotional health and well-being; diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the importance of purpose. We would eventually come to the Great Resignation.
As we look to the rest of 2022, successful workforce and talent conversations will sidestep well-trodden topics and zero in on those we still need to make sense of. Take the conversation around remote or hybrid work. For those among us who are privileged to have choices regarding where we work, even employees who deeply value in-office connections don’t want to give up the upsides of working from home, something my colleague Annie noted in a recent blog. So companies would be wise to invest less in that conversation unless they can provide value in more nuanced areas, such as helping more early-career employees develop professionally in a remote environment. To stand out from the crowd, companies will need to do more than just weigh in; they have to provide analysis that illuminates the issues and offers an action plan, like this HBR article that takes a look at who’s really leaving their job, or this study from MIT that assesses the top drivers of resignations across industries. Spoiler alert: companies should assess their culture, not just pay their employees more.
The start of a new year—even this one—presents an opportunity for companies to survey the business landscape, determine where they can add value in important conversations, and define their key messages. Understanding trends and what competitors are saying is critical to making content work. We’ll continue to explore these trends and forecast where the conversation is headed.