Human Connections are our Opportunity for Growth
Heather Kernahan CEO, Hotwire
Hotwire CEO Heather Kernahan provides the North American perspective on the 2021-22 ICCO World PR Report findings.
This year’s report is particularly exciting, arriving as the world goes through a period of rapid change. In North America, agencies and consultancies have grown over the past year and, importantly, that growth has been driven by strategic consulting and digital services. As complex and systemic issues stacked up and companies accelerated their own digital transformation, boards and C-suite leaders called more on our industry’s expertise to help them talk about and make that shift. Communications in health care or technology had a particularly busy year, and as we look ahead, we can see the intersections of these industries increasing.
Health, in fact, was the year’s biggest growth area, and I think we can understand the current opportunity as being at that intersection: both physical health and the qualities of mental, social, economic, and planetary health, which are now so prominent in our cultural conversation.
In every sphere of life, from the cultural to the economic, from our personal lives to our national politics, it’s clear this is a time of change. Change was in the air well before the shock of Covid-19 – I’m thinking in particular of the Business Roundtable’s redefinition of a corporation’s purpose to focus on positive impact – and the last two years have proven to be fertile ground for thinking about how we might remake the world differently.
You will have felt it yourself, relearning what matters most to you as you build a routine which isn’t anchored by the office. The world has recognized that technological and cultural developments are needed to accommodate new ways of fitting work and life together, but the individual attitudinal shifts that stem from this change will play out over a longer timescale. Our task will be to understand and shape that narrative.
It’s likely that you also felt it yourself when facing the challenges of personal motivation in a disrupted world, having to find new channels to build a sense of community with colleagues. As working patterns diversify, establishing a clear brand identity which includes purpose and culture and gives people meaning and belonging is becoming more important than ever. Our task will be to take on a more strategic, consultative role which captures that holistic picture of business health.
We’ve also been witnessing and participating in the upswell of social justice action over the last two years. The headlines may have changed, but the energy and passion of 2020’s protests in the US and elsewhere have not, and it’s clear that a newfound sense of organizational ethical responsibility will drive real change in how the world works. Our task will be to lead on what truly meaningful action looks like, marrying our business vision with our own sense of ethical purpose.
Ultimately, a focus on health highlights how the human is being recentered in so much of the business world. When English speakers raise a glass, we say cheers; in most other languages I can think of, we toast to health or to life. With human needs and human connection as our north star, the conversations our industry enables will come back to health, in all its forms.