To celebrate the start of the new year, I recently sat down with two Taking the Lead podcast veterans, Emily Poe and Curtis Sparrer, in a round-table discussion looking back at 2022, and more important, to the year ahead.

Poe is group president, integrated communications of Real Chemistry and has led work for such brands as Pfizer, Merck, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Genentech. Sparrer is co-founder and principal of Bospar, who recently won PR Week’s Most Purposeful Agency Leader.

Here are some excerpts from the full video interview:

What are the biggest trends going into 2023 that those in the PR field must be aware?

Poe: The role of technology, data, and artificial intelligence is increasing. Technology allows us better target customer segments and provide personalized experiences. Increased access to performance data allows us to better measure the performance of campaigns, particularly across platforms. At Real Chemistry, we’re really focused on artificial intelligence for its predictive nature as well as how it may become a tool down the road for us as communicators to do higher level work. The shift toward social platforms and impact of financial marketing dynamics will also play key roles in 2023.

Sparrer: There’s going to be consolidation that will make content opportunities much more important to business executives. There’s also a great convergence of B2B and B2C tactics happening in PR. For example, a “Today Show” placement is now leaps and bounds better than a placement in an industry publication. We’re going to see more companies look for big picture moments like this as they are looking for ways to differentiate themselves during an economic downturn.

What were the biggest occurrences in 2022 from which leaders can learn?

Sparrer: We’ve seen that the most dangerous thing in leadership is believing your own reality bubble. There needs to be checks and balances. Rather than cult of personality, leaders must focus on inspiring, deliver their messages with grace and humility, and ultimately be effective in their promises.

Poe: Patagonia showed authentic leadership in 2022 with their commitment to sustainable capitalism. That shift to balancing profit with purpose is what I’d like to see more companies do in 2023. Last year also taught us to embrace change and remain resilient. From COVID to The Great Resignation to an uncertain economy—we need be flexible and able to pivot quickly depending on what’s out there. We must pay attention to what’s in front of us and embrace that change and uncertainty to reimagine a future of work, communications, and leadership.

We're still living in days of uncertainty; what's your best counsel to leaders regarding how they can lead (teams, organizations, themselves) through it?

Poe: Be a good listener: As leaders we’re often about action and direction, but we must balance that with finding time to listen to our employees, clients, and peers. We can learn so much that way. That is my number one be-all-end-all: Look around you, listen to stakeholders and be willing to learn from them.

Sparrer: Agility. People tend to have the idea that they’re going to “stay the course,” but I think that’s recipe for disaster. Agility—being nimble, watching things, reacting quickly—will save the day. Because of economic uncertainty, people are doing things well in advance of when they should do them, but I believe the thinking of long planning is actually deleterious. Instead, I would recommend being agile during this time. It’s so easy to lose your head and get in a panic cycle, but to those people remember what Lily Tomlin said: “Don’t panic.” Have a longview, but also make sure we are reacting appropriately and using our gunpowder in a very calibrated way.

What was your toughest challenge in 2022, and how’d you get through it?

Sparrer: Our biggest challenge was the “Will it or won’t it?” economy. We’ve had to provide guidance about what we’re seeing and what we would recommend doing. Especially in these circumstances, it’s important to have conversations with other people and get leadership feedback from your peers.

Poe: Between recruiting, retention, overall team management—balancing growth with staffing was the biggest challenge Real Chemistry faced in 2022. For those who know our history, we were founded in 2001 and have gone through many evolutions and growth. Now we are 2000+ employees, so this year we took a step back to think through all of the levers to help us adjust with our growth and the continued development of our teams.

What are you most excited about for 2023?

Poe: We’re discovering what this post-COVID reality will be and the way we’ll be working in the future. I look forward to seeing what is exciting and great coming out of companies in 2023.

Sparrer: Whenever you have a downturn, new and interesting companies emerge from the ashes. I’m excited to see what new companies come about as the next generation of work.


Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders and executives to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications agencies achieve their business development, profitability, and client service goals, via consulting and training. You can find him at, [email protected] @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.