The industry needs to have more faith in its own importance

During our national conference last month, I was struck by how our industry can be prone to the occasional bout of navel-gazing.

Francis Ingham: PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director
Francis Ingham: PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

We agonise over proving our worth - ask agency employees or in-house people alike, and the single biggest issue that we aim to solve is proof of return on investment.

It is the anxiety of an industry with no physical product, where outcomes are sometimes utterly invisible, regardless of how valuable they are.

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I'm not exactly plagued with self-doubt. And that is why this malaise troubles me. It is as if, like some lovesick teenager, we are worried that someone will finally realise what we are all about and ditch us.

Don't get me wrong - we are committed to helping the industry provide those proof points. Earlier this year, for example, we published the definitive Guide to Measurement with ICCO and AMEC, which went some way towards that goal.

But if we look to the boardroom, there is a different story. Seventy-two per cent of the C-Suite believe that reputation has a strong link to financial performance. And comms teams and agencies are increasingly being trusted to manage that reputation proactively - "to hold up the mirror", as one director put it.

As the last PRCA/PRWeek Census showed, this is an industry that contributes £7.5bn to the UK economy - a figure that we may well see bettered in this year's census. The PRCA Quarterly Economic Barometers show that budgets continued to grow throughout even the toughest days of the downturn.

This is despite the fact that, for all the sentiment analysis and customer satisfaction surveys, reputation is ultimately unquantifiable. So there we have it: everyone believes reputation is important and yet no one knows how to measure it.

Why? It is very simple. Boardrooms see the reputational crises experienced by their peers and say to themselves "there but for the grace of God, go I". To leave themselves unprotected, either by in-house or agency representatives, would be very foolish indeed.

The proof points will come - and we will do our best to help with that. But the PR industry must maintain faith in its ability to protect and strengthen reputation - and in the boardroom's unswerving confidence that this is a very important job indeed.

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director.

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