PR in the 21st Century

Anyone who has known me professionally or as a university and college sessional instructor will not be taken aback when I say I find one of the data points in the chart below not in the least surprising.

Another is a bit perplexing though.

The USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations released its Global Communications Study last month on the opinions of 460 global in-house and agency public relations executives about the future of the PR industry. (Curiously only a third of the respondents who began the online survey finished it! What's that about?)

The chart (mine) below summarizes their views on one important matter—the specific services that will drive future growth in the PR industry. 

The study reports:

When asked about specific services that will drive future growth, agency and client-side respondents were focused on increased demand for content creation (81%) and social media (75%), as well as more traditional activities such as brand reputation (70%), followed by measurement and evaluation (60%).

Traditional media relations still ranks relatively high for both corporate and agency leaders (55%). However, advertising/paid media (18%) ranked last of 18 possible growth drivers. 

From my frame of reference having transitioned 10 years ago from 20-odd years as a PR counselor to a digital strategist, I have often—too often?—argued that with a few agency and in-house exceptions PR lagged only public affairs in having had an obtuse disregard for the shift from media relations to digital that began, yes, about 10 years ago. 

After rejecting for years that media relations could be anything but core to PR, practitioners now appear willing to rank it where it belongs — not especially consequential as a growth driver.

But is the PR industry again blind to the next turn?

To rank advertising/paid media last out of 18 possible growth drivers is to misunderstand where social influence and relationships, content programs, reputation strategies, and social network architecture are heading.

Communication strategies today start with objectives like uncovering and nurturing influencers, fitting together networks and relationships, and conceiving content that rocks and changes behaviour. Often that depends on integrated social interaction and paid approaches, and certainly art and design skills now still found predominantly in creative agencies.

PR teams and PR agencies wanting to engineer relationships with audiences and influencers will have to come to terms with the fact that when you are talking about sculpting communities on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat and Pinterest . . . visualize earned and paid.  

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