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Six trends that define 2012 for the comms director

The seventh annual PRWeek/Brands2Life Comms Directors Survey finds that challenges for in-house teams are focused around the vagaries of fast-changing - and digitally expressed - public opinion of companies. Anyone getting any sleep out there?

1. Fewer Budget Cuts

The average change to budgets over the past year has been a three per cent fall, but some cause for optimism is returning; for the first time since 2009 the majority have not seen a budget decrease. An increasing proportion of budgets are being ploughed into digital - 54 per cent of comms directors have increased their online spend.

2. Gaining trust has become the big challenge

Gaining and maintaining public trust has become the biggest corporate challenge, closely followed by the need to ensure a consistent brand message. For comms teams, both these aims translate into a greater need to manage the challenges of digital media (up significantly on last year). The loss of staff to agencies has also become a concern.

3. Comms teams no longer manage social media

Comms teams are losing responsibility for social media, search engine optimisation and website management. Only 43 per cent of comms directors feel that their team should run their organisation's social media presence.

HOW I SEE IT

ALEX PEARMAIN, HEAD OF PR & SOCIAL MEDIA, O2 UK

Social media is a maturing marketing discipline, but not yet mature. We have hit the tough teenage years: almost adult, yet sometimes unsophisticated. Social media's principal impact on, or benefit to, an organisation can vary, covering service, reputation, customer relationships, or all of these.

This range is increasingly reflected in organisational structures. Ultimately, the conversation about where responsibility lies should focus on where it is most effective, not internal hierarchies. Ownership does not always equal success. A comms director focused on reputation management needs to be as confident with social media as with websites, regardless of whether they have line management for them. The crucial question is: are comms directors ceding responsibility for social media because they lack confidence or because they are taking a strategic view that they are not best placed in their business to handle them? I hope it is the latter.

4. Integration with other parts of the business is key

Comms teams are spending increasing amounts of time working with other departments. Seventy-two per cent are integrating their work more with marketing and sales, while 52 per cent report higher levels of contact with international offices. Particular dissatisfaction was reported around integrating comms messages with investor relations and customer service.

HOW I SEE IT


SALLY OSMAN, DIRECTOR, CORPORATE COMMS, SONY EUROPE

Integrating activity across the business is essential for effective comms as the lines blur between different disciplines. It's the story that counts.

How the story is conveyed may well differ, depending on the platform or medium, so professional expertise and focus is important. More than ever, all of these disciplines have the same starting points - insight, story, who are we trying to tell it to and how?

Unless all channels start with a common understanding and objective, you simply won't get impact and traction.

The challenges in this environment are to ensure you source complementary skillsets and people for whom collaboration is second nature. In PR that often means working in an editorially engaging way to deploy creativity, intelligence and good ideas. Working in an integrated way brings coherence and makes best use of ideas, people, talent, skills and resources, and can build mutual respect.

5. PR agencies deliver the best and the most ideas

PR agencies are the group most likely to deliver ideas often - a big change from last year when agencies were lagging behind in-house teams and ad agencies as the groups most likely to deliver ideas often.

HOW I SEE IT


GUY CORBET, DIRECTOR, BRANDS2LIFE

In-house and agency comms teams are continuing to feel the strain of chasing more disparate audiences through a cluttered and increasingly complex media. They are doing this in an uncertain economy and amid ever-eroding trust in institutions.

The people we are all trying to reach are increasingly inundated with commercial messages, and so are having to become better at filtering out what is irrelevant to them. All of this plays to the strengths of PR agencies in understanding how to earn rather than buy attention.

It means engaging audiences in broader conversations around common values or interests and being sympathetic to the subtleties of other audiences that may eavesdrop.

The 'big idea' may simply be changing.

Where once it could be brash and budget hungry, now it needs to be more nuanced and cost-effective.

This demands clarity and cut-through to build lasting impact, and these are the genuine hallmarks of creativity.

6. Short agency relationships

Almost a third of comms directors have held a pitch in the past six months and the average agency/client relationship is now a startlingly short 11 months.

For more in-depth detail on the survey results, go to commsdirectors.com or #commsdirectors

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