With January lasting 1,000 days, as usual (more so if you’re doing Dry January), we knew our 2022 trends analysis could wait a little. But now it’s here, looking to answer pressing questions like: Will the Great Resignation gather pace? What do foreign holidays feel like? Will England win the world cup? Do you remember how exciting curling is? Will Peloton take back my expensive clothes hanger?
We asked over 80 Difference Collective consultants for their views, ideas and analysis of the year ahead. Their thoughts were provocative, considered and at times heartfelt. We may be Delivering Differently, but we’ve all been affected by the past two years.
So, like a mix between Nostradamus, Mystic Meg and Paul the Octopus, here are our top five trends for communications, healthcare and the world of work in 2022:
1. Boom (and Bust?)
However, what’s only just beginning to show up is the extent to which people are moving for advancement. Salary expectations in healthcare and medical comms are soaring, far higher than inflation. Whilst undoubtedly multi-factorial, we think this is being fuelled in a few key ways:
- A severing of the link between where you live and where you can expect to get work
- Pent up demand for new ideas and new impetus after two years on a treadmill (quite literally at times)
- A knee-jerk return to the inflexible and impractical working conditions of the past
- Demand for great communications to support the appetite for people to better understand science and healthcare
Ultimately people believe they know their worth and are prepared to ask for it. Some agencies are reportedly paying 50% above the going rate for mid-level and senior talent. We see this trend continuing but ultimately believe that the bubble will burst.
We risk a return to the early 2000s when a lack of proven senior professionals in agencies led to a cycle of under-achievement, client dissatisfaction and redundancies. It’s far too soon to know if this will be the outcome. Great people are few and far between and therefore worth paying for, but the industry must be prudent.
2. More tortoise than hare
With every relaxation of pandemic rules, there are those champing at the bit for freedom; booking holidays, meeting old friends and living their best life. It is tempting to think these are the majority. Yet all current data suggests the majority of us are far more circumspect about rushing back to ‘normal’. We may crave our old ways, but a combination of false dawns, habituation with restrictions, and a skewed sense of risk have most of us moving incrementally towards life with or after COVID.
We predict this two-speed return to normality will come with challenges for communications. Do you return to conferences, but no-one attends?
We think building in resilience and flexibility remains advisable. Don’t be surprised if attendance at meetings and conferences is slow or lower than expected. Don’t lose hope in those struggling to process two years of fear. We feel people will gain in confidence and those face-to-face interactions still mean so much. In the meantime, it doesn’t need to be ‘all or nothing’. Don’t underestimate hybrid. It provides a vital tool to keep people involved and help bridge the gap.
3. Go-go for mojo
Almost two grinding years into the pandemic, it is ever more apparent that the prevailing emotion is boredom. Time and again our members, clients and healthcare professional partners talk about feeling jaded, fragile and lacking enthusiasm.
We have and continue to deal with a lot of ‘emotional crap’ to quote one respondent. How we deal with this bore-out can have profound long-term effects on mental wellbeing and the success of healthcare communications.
We feel it is ever more incumbent on us to inspire and motivate. There has never been a greater opportunity to make a difference at community, population or society level. Expect interest in volunteering, learning and new modes of expression (improv is having another moment).
4. Inequality, inequity and digital inclusion
2022 is surely going to be health literacy’s breakout year. With major pharma now seeing the vital importance of the informed patient for success, health literacy must be embedded from first principles in every piece of healthcare communication.
Yet there’s a broader problem; digital inclusion. Access to information is as critical as the quality and understandability of the information itself. In the US, lack of educational attainment and increasing age, two of the biggest determinants of ill-health, are the groups with the lowest uptake of smartphones.
Less than six months ago, the NHS estimated that over 11 million people lack basic digital skills and almost five million never use the internet. We cannot just assume internet-based resources alone will suffice. It might seem old-fashioned but non-digital resources retain a role, as does greater investment in digital inclusion and health literacy.
5. The face of pharma
We’re conscious that the majority of you reading this will work in or for the pharmaceutical industry. Did you like your moment in the limelight? Surely it felt good to be seen as the heroes for once?
Get used to it.
There’s no way the industry can go back to secrecy. A world where even communications consultants struggle to get their clients to say anything at all. Thanks to the pandemic; Thanks to Jonathan Van Tam; Thanks to Albert Bourla. Thanks, sort of, to the White Rose.
We’ve created an army of armchair experts. Build on the goodwill (and frankly the bad science) to become a broker for a better society. If you don’t, someone else will, and we don’t think you’ll like what they have to say. So, when your agency or comms colleagues talk about personality, tone and informality, perhaps Tik Tok or vertical video, hear them out.
So that’s it. Five trends to consider (or five failed predictions to remind us of in 2023). We’ll leave you with two more thoughts.
Firstly, many people have forgotten how boring they found normality in late 2019. Don’t let it creep up on you again. If you work in comms, think about how you can bring society, people and healthcare closer together. We all need to challenge ourselves to Deliver Differently.
And finally, while work might have come home during the pandemic, the World Cup later this year probably won’t.
Stuart Mayell, Head of the Creative Difference, is a highly adaptable facilitator of ideation, strategy, messaging and crisis workshops. With 22 years of undimmed curiosity about health and science, he is an advocate for evidence-based creativity to tackle society’s greatest health challenges, and help businesses succeed.