Forecasting the future #2: A reinvigorated emphasis on ESG & ethical AI in marcomms rising up the agenda

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As we draw to the end of a turbulent year, the Missive team, our friends, clients and suppliers have cast their minds ahead to the challenges and opportunities for 2024. 

In part two of our predictions series, we hear from Rudiger Theilmann, Course Leader, MA Public Relations at Leeds Beckett University, Stephen Waddington, Founder and Managing Partner at Wadds Inc. and Agata Mlynarczyk, Head of Marketing at Cashflows, as well as Missive’s very own Gemma, Kate and Roberta.  

If you missed part one, you can catch up here

Face to face communication, authenticity, and unscripted interactions will be strengthened skills 

Rudiger Theilmann, Course Leader, MA Public Relations at Leeds Beckett University 

“Without a doubt, AI will have a massive impact on PR - there is already a lot of discussion about how exactly, and what the impact on the industry will be. However, this just looks at one side of the coin: the Yin. PR also stands for ‘People’s relationships’, and the more AI is deployed in our sector, the more the human side of our work, the Yang, needs to be prioritised. There can be no Yin without Yang.  

“Face to face communication, authenticity, and unscripted interactions must not just be preserved, but actively strengthened. ‘Chatbot’ conversations and AI generated stories will have a negative impact on trust without authentic CEO communications and human faces behind the stories to bolster them. The rise of AI will (have to!) reinvigorate the human factor in PR.”  

A reinvigorated emphasis on ESG 

Gemma Dunn, Director of Growth, Missive 

“This may be wishful thinking but, travelling hopefully into 2024, I think we can expect to see a bigger corporate focus on ESG globally, which will be reflected in the PR and comms industry. If 2023 marked a swing from greenwashing to greenhushing and a retrenchment in public commitments to ESG because of an anti-woke investor brigade, wouldn’t it be great if 2024 saw a pivot towards active ESG pledges and delivery, as well as authentic communication of these efforts?  

“As companies map out their stakeholder values, and try to impress the younger generations, they will feel a business need to focus on ESG and prove demonstrable positive impact. This need will only get greater over time.  

“I think that in 2024 PR and comms professionals will increasingly find they are asked not only to promote sustainability efforts but also asked about the actions and campaign messages that will deliver stakeholder value and help their business grow in the long-term.” 

The developing role of public relations in management  

Stephen Waddington, Wadds Inc. 

“Public relations was elevated as a function within management during the COVID-19 pandemic. It helped organisations manage the public health emergency, dramatic changes to supply chains and the shift to working from home for office workers. The situation has reverted, but practitioners continue to push the public relations function into management through advisory services on issues relating to artificial intelligence (AI) and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns. Practitioners provide a unique relationship and public leadership perspective of an organisation, based on data, insight and emotional intelligence.” 

Influencer relations will drive brand visibility, credibility and audience reach 

Kate Hunter, Director of Operations, Missive 

“The use of B2B influencers will continue to gather pace in 2024, as more marketers recognise the value of influencers in reaching and engaging target audiences. To get the most from an influencer strategy, you need to select an individual who aligns with your brand’s value and goals – as well as having a relevant following – for an authentic long-term partnership.  

“With continued economic uncertainty on the horizon for 2024, it will be important to stay flexible and adapt to changing market needs and regularly evaluate performance so you can adjust the approach. The right collaboration, with clear expectations on both sides, can enhance brand visibility and credibility, as well as audience reach. Despite squeezed budgets, we’re seeing no signs of clients slowing their investment in this area.” 

Ethical AI in marcomms jumps up the agenda 

Agata Mlynarczyk, Head of Marketing, Cashflows 

“Generative AI has taken hold of marketing functions in 2023, and no wonder. Its positive impact on efficiency frees us all up to focus more on strategy and creativity. As we move into 2024, however, I think we’ll see more reflection.  

"AI has the potential to become to run-away technology that exacerbates societal imbalances. As these risks have become better understood, we are more aware of what could happen if these biases were to leak into marketing and communications content. Brand reputation, shareholder relationships and sales could be irreparably damaged.  

“There are also insufficient safeguards in place to protect marketers against plagiarism or breaches of copyright, but I don’t expect this to be solved by marketers themselves, but rather those developing technology for marketers. I predict we’ll see new start-ups and BigTechs solving this problem by launching copyright analysis and media content authentication tools. 

“While I don’t think we’ll see adoption slow down, I do believe that marketers will put deliberation, care and process at the fore when deploying AI tools in 2024. They will have to, if they want to achieve the best outcomes for consumers and businesses alike.” 

Internal comms will rise up the agenda 

Roberta Main-Millar, Senior Account Director, Missive 

“Less connected teams that work in hybrid or remote models and a predicted tough economic climate continuing into 2024 is a perfect storm to create rumours and speculation throughout companies. Having a robust internal comms strategy can help businesses get on the front foot with winning over one of their most important stakeholders – employees.  

“Internal comms is much more than communicating business and operational updates in a timely manner (although this is very important!). A well-rounded internal comms programme involves two-way communication, where everyone in the business feels heard and valued. This fosters a culture of collaboration and belonging, something that is important when tougher messages may need to be delivered around results or downsizing. Two-way communication is also key for pre-empting where employees may be asking questions. This allows businesses to get on the front foot and tackle any issues head-on, before they spark speculation. 

“Internal comms can be used to celebrate staff and business achievements, further boosting positive sentiment in the business. To keep employees engaged in 2024, think about how different messages are delivered. For example, does a newsletter work well for ensuring people don’t miss key updates, or would a video from a manager shouting out a team’s work be more effective at showing how much they are valued? However you are doing internal comms at the moment, I encourage you to review your strategy against the business’ status and see where it can help promote a great place to work in 2024.”  

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you navigate a fast-changing comms landscape, get in touch with the team today. 

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