Leaders See Positive Role and Growth for PR


My invitation to speak to the San Jose Group team last week arrived on the same day I received a copy of the GAP VII study, which provided proof points for each of my bullish assertions about the future of public relations.

Conducted by the USC Annenberg Strategic Communications and Public Relations Center in conjunction (SCPRC) with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), the study summarizes industry perspective from 620 senior communicators.  Key findings of the study mostly support the belief that the future of public relations is bright.  Students and practitioners can find a wealth of information from the study data base of detailed findings on the SCPRC website. Here are some of the key points:

Budgets are growing again.  A quarter of the surveyed PR leaders at public companies say budgets will be up in 2012, a significant increase from the flat growth sentiment in the GAP VI study from two years ago.

Measurement and evaluation are on the rise.  Corporations indicate they have more than doubled the amounts devoted to measurement and evaluation. I thought the 4% allocation of two years ago was an impressive jump, but it now averages 9% as more C-suite executives demand measurable validation of PR initiatives.

“Outcomes” vs. “Outputs.”  Traditional reporting of what was produced in PR initiatives (clips, gross impressions and ad equivalents) still prevails, but there is a significant shift to “outcomes” (actions/results the program actually was able to influence).

PR owns a seat at the table.  Wining about where the function reports is passe.  Nearly 60% of those surveyed report directly to the CEO, Chairman or Chief Operating Officer.

Social media surges in influence.  PR functions continue to take on increasing responsibilities for social media activities, but added duties don’t always come with additional budgets.  Just like other areas of society, this will result in focus shifts to make sure outcome-focused programs get increased attention and budget.

Facebook and Twitter rule.  More than 53% of public companies use Facebook and Twitter.  Many are trying others, but Facebook and Twitter are the main staples of a company’s entry-level engagement in social media.

PR picking up other functions.  Internal communications and customer relations duties are increasingly falling under the public relations umbrella.

Marketing and product PR is declining.  Social media’s growth is taking  a bite out of budgets for traditional marketing and brand PR. While overall budgets aren’t increasing dramatically, the amount devoted to social media is seeing significant growth.

AOR relationships fading away.  Just 10 years ago, more than half of public companies had a single PR agency of record.  Today, the number is slightly over 15%.  Corporations are tapping multiple agencies, including specialized and local firms.

Findings of the new study were presented at the recent IPR board meeting by Jerry Swerling, head of Annenberg’s SCPRC program.  “The IPR Trustees crawled all over Jerry’s data when he presented GAP VII at our last Board meeting ,” said Frank Ovaitt, IPR President and CEO.  “It was a conversation full of insights and upsides and, if you’re a young person at the beginning of a public relations career, reasons why you’ve made a great choice.”

Jerry Swerling said the GAP VII data was mentioned to him by several CCOs attending the annual Arthur Page Society seminar which began the day after the IPR board meeting. “But the coolest event of them all was a presentation made by my GAP colleagues, Kjerstin Thorson and Burghardt Tenderich, and me, to 175 members of our most important audience, our students,” Swerling said.  “Their questions were great and their enthusiasm was palpable. Yes, GAP is intended to help the profession achieve its full potential. But just as important is the assurance it gives us that what we’re teaching our students is timely, relevant, and career enhancing. I’ve been doing this PR thing for 40+ years, and will turn 65 on May 3, but nothing that has come before was more satisfying than those 90 minutes spent sharing insights gleaned from GAP VII with the next generation of professionals.”

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