Year in Review 2023: Sarah Munnik

Each year, StopPress asks a group of talented professionals in the local industry for their reflections on the year that was. This year, we speak to individuals who made their mark on 2023 and brought us truly impactful work.

Sarah Munnik is a Partner at communications and PR consultancy Pead, which works with a range of high-profile consumer brands, corporates and not-for-profit clients. Here she gives her thoughts on 2023, and what we can expect to see in 2024.

If 2023 were a brand, what would its slogan be?

‘It’s raining again’.

How would you sum up your professional year in three words?

 Resilience, Hustle, Growth.

Who really disrupted the market this year?

It’s probably more of a ‘what’ than a ‘who’ – all the changes in the media landscape and the loss of some outstanding journalists. 

I think we can all agree the new Mayor of Auckland certainly had an impact, as did our newly minted Deputy PM, Winston Peters.

What was the best innovation/launch/invention of 2023?

In July, the cultural landscape was shaken by the simultaneous release of two strikingly distinct films: the flawlessly vibrant Barbie and the sombre docudrama Oppenheimer, unveiling the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon. This bold dual-release strategy harkened back to a similar counterprogramming tactic witnessed fifteen years ago when The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! pioneered this approach. Fans eagerly engaged in months of discussions, comparing the contrasting marketing strategies, box office performances, and vastly divergent content of these two films.

We’d be remiss not to mention Open AI and all it offers (the good, bad and ugly).

What shifts do you foresee in New Zealand PR land for 2024 based on 2023’s trends?

Brands must vigilantly manage where their content appears, ensuring alignment with values and suitability for younger audiences. Relying solely on algorithms isn’t an excuse; proactive steps are crucial to avoid inappropriate content association.

Sustainability goes beyond carbon reduction. Recent events underline the need for comprehensive sustainability strategies, yet many brands have ground to cover. A holistic approach builds resilient consumer trust.

The rise of fake news fuels media scepticism; government mistrust worsens this, challenging trust-building efforts.

Cultural fandom is rising, urging brands to re-evaluate traditional approaches for better reach.

Social media’s shift from a single culture to diverse subcultures shapes a varied online landscape. Understanding these groups allows for tailored communication.

In 2024, a notable transformation in addressing greenwashing is expected, a practice that has been prevalent but often unnoticed by many brands. However, as the sustainability market evolves, brands will face scrutiny for overstating their green efforts. The upcoming year will spotlight the need for authentic, substantial changes. Brands embracing this shift will thrive as society moves towards sustainability. As communication experts, it’s our responsibility to steer our clients towards genuine, impactful actions in this journey.

What was a key change that you/Pead made this year in response to 2023’s challenges.

This year, we’ve embraced our consulting partners’ diverse specialties and our internal teams’ expertise to meet clients’ growing demands for varied PR and digital marketing skills. Our approach ensures each client is handled by a specialist within a comprehensive service framework. By blending these skills, we’ve effectively delivered tangible business results.

Our commitment to securing top-tier talent remains unwavering, and we’ve adopted innovative methods to both attract and retain exceptional professionals. As part of this initiative, our expansion into the South Island signifies a significant stride, allowing us to provide localised support to clients in the region. This move ensures that South Island-based clients benefit from our complete suite of services, reinforcing our commitment to excellence.

What technology made the most impact on your day-to-day work this year?

Acknowledging the prevalence of ChatGPT, we’re cautious about its complete positive influence. In our industry, evoking emotions in both content and copy is crucial for engagement – and to build trust.  This emotive aspect might not be adequately conveyed through a language learning model.

It is a great supplementary tool – but we’d emphasise the importance of fact verification.  We’ve already seen a few incidents where insufficient fact checking has landed some people in hot water.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt this year?

Media relations isn’t dead – and we’ve just proven through our work with Cystic Fibrosis NZ that strategic media relations can save lives.  We didn’t need a big creative idea to put pressure on Pharmac to fund life-saving medication for those with CF, just some hard-hitting and humanised media relations.

In the world of digital, one thing that we’re seeing more and more is the power of creative having the upper hand over the power of production values, when we compare the performance on organic social. It’s due to the rise of Tik Tok and other platform trends, but can really put us out of our comfort zone when we have a drive to want to make all our brand assets crisp, clean and beautiful. It’s not right for every brand, but it’s becoming more and more powerful for brands to relax their production values.  

Who inspired you and why?

This year marked 130 years of women’s suffrage and as a predominantly female-led business we love seeing other women drive change and be a force for good in NZ.  A few of the female leaders inspiring us include:

Theresa Gattung, one of NZ’s most successful women in business, our leading feminist and someone who successfully uses her business success to fund her philanthropy, the Gattung Foundation.  Theresa has an unashamedly focused lens on empowering women and has dedicated her life to advocating for gender parity.  We are proud of our client and we are constantly inspired by her.

Lisa Burns, CEO CFNZ for being relentless in the fight for the CF community and unlocking Pharmac funding.  She never shied away from the hard conversations and demonstrated grit in her fight for the CF community.  She’s a weapon.

Sarah Page, Founder and CEO of Kindness Collective, which was named the Community of the Year in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards 2023. We’re constantly inspired by her drive and determination and the difference the organisation she’s created makes in lives of so many.

What are you most looking forward to working on in 2024?

Our founder, Deborah Pead made multi decade commitment to Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre (RMTC) and next year we’ll celebrate 20 years of work with them as they expand their network even wider in NZ.

We’re also looking forward to continuing our partnership with New Zealand Fashion Week and launching some really unexpected and innovative campaigns that are in development – watch this space.

Quick fire 10:

Most impactful local campaign of 2023:

Up the Wah’s.

Most underrated international campaign of the year:

Any campaign to do with the climate crisis.  Even when we were knee deep in water – too many are blissfully ignorant of the changes happening around us.

A campaign I wish I worked on:

Bird of the Year. The power of having John Oliver in your camp!

A news event that didn’t get the attention it deserved:

Every unsung hero.  Our communities are built on volunteers who do the right thing day after day.  We would love to be able to celebrate them all.

Most listened to artist of 2023:

According to Pead’s in-office Spotify Wrapped 2023 – Harry Styles.

A 2023 trend you’re ready to bid farewell to:

Meghan and Harry. Can they please just shut the eff up!

Most innovative use of social media in a campaign this year:

Up the Wah’s.

Most bingeable TV series of 2023:

Succession, Beckham, White Lotus Season 2 (do I watch too much content?).

Biggest flop of 2023:

Change of Twitter to X.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given:

Teach deliberately what you do instinctively – unknown.

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