Lessons learned from IPR’s Top 17 Public Relations Insights of 2021

by | Mar 28, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

2021 was another year of tumultuous change in the public relations industry. With increasing vaccine availability, supply chain challenges, a new U.S. president, and the impact of climate change, there were no shortage of issues communicators focused on around the world. As demands for communicators came from seemingly every direction, leaders in the field turned to research to help them better understand how to address these issues.

Each year, the Institute for Public Relations gathers a list of top research insights that should be top of mind for public relations professionals. The 17 studies spotlighted this year provide insight for communicators on handling COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, retaining employees, addressing sustainability, and more. Here are some of the key insights from 2021:

Misinformation about vaccine safety is spreading and causing reduced vaccine uptake globally

A study by scholars at the University of Zurich found that anti-vaccination supporters shared conspiracy theories and were more likely to use emotional language compared to pro-vaccination supporters. Researchers suggest that policies should be put into place to halt the circulation of vaccine misinformation on social media.

The shifting nature of work has shed light on challenges for minority employees

Discrimination experiences in the workplace lead to employees’ adoption of emotion-focused coping strategies, which diminish employee-organization relationships. Organizations should communicate transparently with employees so they adopt a more problem-focused coping strategy, which benefits employee-organization relationships. According to a study by McKinsey and LeanIn, 32 percent of Black women who have spoken out against bias and discrimination at work reported experiencing retaliation.

Sustainability leadership is becoming imperative

Interviews of current Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) by Korn Ferry found by shifting the focus from “doing less bad” to “doing more good,” sustainability is perceived as an enabler or creator of business, rather than a cost or reporting function.

Behavioral science can play an essential role in setting and implementing climate-related policies

Historically, climate change communicators have trusted that the simple enormity of the problem would motivate action. Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that a more complex, deliberative process may be better suited for behavior change.

A majority (73 percent) of employees want flexible remote work options to stay

Leaders are listening, with 66 percent of leaders saying their company is considering reimagining office space for hybrid work, according to a study by Microsoft.

Employees are encouraged to support business goals when they feel that their organization reflects their personal values

A study by Integral and The Harris Poll found that of the employees who said their organization reflected their values, 63 percent said they were likely to remain with their employer over the next 6-12 months.

Polarization levels in the U.S. have remained steady overall from 2020-2021, but polarization among some topics has increased

Immigration has continued to become more polarized quarter over quarter, and remains the most polarized issue. Conversation around COVID-19 vaccines is also increasingly polarized, according to a study by USC Annenberg, Zignal Labs, and Golin.

Communication professionals across the globe have their eye on the digital future

In two separate studies conducted by EUPRERA and colleagues, 38 percent and 39 percent of communication professionals in Asia-Pacific and Latin America, respectively, said “coping with the digital evolution and the social web” was the most important strategic issue for communication management through 2022.

Black employees face major barriers in the workplace, including a lack of advancement opportunities

A McKinsey study found that Black employees may encounter a broken rung, or the obstacles on the promotion ladder that keep people from advancing, from entry-level jobs to managerial jobs. Only 23 percent of Black employees reported that they receive “a lot” or “quite a lot” of support to advance.

Employees (41 percent) are likely to consider a job change to resolve stress

A study conducted by Talkspace found that employees were bypassing company policies, such as changing teams or short-term leaves, in favor of resignation. When it came to employee retention and engagement, “a manager that prioritizes mental health” was ranked higher than both a strong culture and mentorship.

A majority of workers across the globe (75 percent) want to work for an organization that will make a positive contribution to society

Forty-six percent of survey respondents said they would choose a job that “makes a difference” over a higher salary, according to research by PwC Global.

Taking these insights into consideration, communicators can better equip themselves to handle current issues. Research exists for many of the topics that communicators are concerned about: employee retention, the future of work, sustainability practices, and beyond.  All communicators must do is look to a trusted body of knowledge in their industry to find research-backed answers and best practices.

To dig into these insights and more, read the full report.

Olivia Kresic
Olivia Kresic, M.A., is Senior Research and Outreach Manager at the Institute for Public Relations (IPR). She oversees the organization’s Commissions and Centers of Excellence, IPR Research Letter, and several research projects and partnerships.


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