2021: The year we all moved the dial on the treadmill a little…or a lot

2021 has been a year of recalibration, but also one of optimism. After the seismic global shift which emerged out of nowhere in 2020, we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and moved forward with purpose. 

We questioned the rigidity of working constraints, sought to rebalance our lives using the promise of flexibility and pondered the future of the office. And while perhaps the answers won’t be found for another generation to come, we should celebrate this pause moment.

Amid the chaos, we have all been able to collectively take stock and reexamine our core values. And most of us moved the notch on that endless treadmill a little, or a lot. 

For me, the three key milestone moments and events of 2021 were the:

  1. Mass rediscovery of ourselves professionally.
  2. Recognition of the importance of our roles as change-makers both in driving cultural change in the workplace and also as part of the wider ESG dialogue.
  3. Reevaluation of the PR industry’s impact, and renewed impetus to do the ‘right thing’. 

2021 was very much the year I sought to reconnect with who I was professionally – something which has always been intrinsically linked to who I am and what I care about. But life often has a horrible habit in getting in the way of milestone decision-making.

The pause moment led me to swap the FTSE100 company I had been at for 10 years for Vested – an agile, creative and innovative company, full of changemakers. 

And changemakers we all must be. We have been promised an ethical future – but not everyone is striving to be part of the solution. I am proud to be part of an industry which constantly moves the dial on ESG – both in its work for clients – seen most recently at COP26 –  and in the way in which it empathises with employees through increasingly positive flexible working options and Diversity & Inclusion measures. Yet there is still so much more we can do. 

The fact that Extinction Rebellion chose to protest outside the UK PR Week Awards in October, calling out “disingenuous” PR agencies for their support of “climate destruction” spoke volumes. Our power as an industry to make a difference must not be underestimated.

Client relationships need to be partnerships and it is up to the industry to undertake rigorous due diligence to ascertain whether companies are at the very least on a journey to building back better. It is our responsibility to challenge, to question – and to turn down business when it just doesn’t feel right. 

It’s not even a bold approach. The companies which are fully embracing ESG are those that are in it for the long run. Future-proofing is not a bad business strategy, after all.

In order for us all to reach our shared goals of carbon neutrality, increased diversity and better customer connections, we need to earn our stripes in times of calm. By positioning public relations as a strategic discipline within management structures, we can help organisations to effect positive change. We are more than just people who swoop in to mop up – but we’re all pretty good at that too!

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