ANALYSIS: Strategic planning - The industry booms as PR jobs shift focus. A new survey points to the increasingly 'strategic' nature of modern PR. But, John Frank asks, how does the industry find enough staff with these skills?

The mood was decidedly upbeat at the recent Public Relations World Congress 2000. How could it not be? With record attendance and representation from more than 60 countries, it's clear the business is booming like never before. And the biggest problem facing agencies today isn't finding business, it's finding enough qualified staff to handle the business coming in.

The mood was decidedly upbeat at the recent Public Relations World Congress 2000. How could it not be? With record attendance and representation from more than 60 countries, it's clear the business is booming like never before. And the biggest problem facing agencies today isn't finding business, it's finding enough qualified staff to handle the business coming in.

The mood was decidedly upbeat at the recent Public Relations World Congress 2000. How could it not be? With record attendance and representation from more than 60 countries, it's clear the business is booming like never before. And the biggest problem facing agencies today isn't finding business, it's finding enough qualified staff to handle the business coming in.

Yet beneath that facade of good times, a great deal of reflection was going on about the future of PR. What are clients asking of PR firms today and how do firms deliver that service? Where will the industry find qualified staff when it's competing for talent with high-paid consulting, legal and hi-tech businesses? And how will the business cope when the current boom inevitably slows and firms again have to convince potential clients about the value of PR?

As Bob Seltzer, CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations, said at the conference: 'There will come a time when we will all have to go hunting again.'

When that time comes, what will the PR business be selling itself as?

Industry scion Harold Burson recounted the evolution he's seen in his more than 50 years in PR. In the post-World War II days when PR began to take root in corporate America, Burson says, PR clients knew what they wanted to do in their businesses and turned to PR to tell them simply: 'How do I say it?'

But the tremendous changes that shook the country in the 1960s changed that question to 'What do I say?' Executives became less sure of themselves as protests filled the news every night and the influence of long-cherished institutions was questioned.



PR as a strategist

By the 1980s, the question now became 'What do I do?' At this point, Burson says, 'PR people have a seat at the decision table.' PR had evolved from communications conduit to strategic adviser.

That concept was reinforced in a major study released at the PRSA conference by the Universal Accreditation Board. The board is looking at how to update the Accredited in Public Relations exam to make it more relevant to PR practitioners. To do that, it felt it first needed to get a handle on exactly how PR people are spending their work time today.

The practice study, done by The Gary Siegel Organization, based in Chicago, answered that question emphatically - they're spending it as strategic planners and implementers of strategic thinking.

Asked where they spent their time, 89% of the 1,147 respondents say they spend either a great deal or some time on strategic planning. Taking it a step further, the study found that 99% of those with APRs spend some time on strategic planning, while 98% of those without APRs also spend some time on strategic planning.

The organization sent out questionnaires to a random sample of 3,500 PR people.

It is difficult to define strategic planning. It is a broad concept and incorporates all aspects of strategic thinking, including working with corporate executives to discuss what kind of image the company wants to project and how to go about it.

The strategic planning focus is there no matter where PR people work.

The study found that 78% of those who work for agencies, 60% of those who work for corporations and 46% of those who work for non-profits spend time on strategic planning.

Asked which is the most critical work category, 54.8% of respondents put strategic planning first, followed by 20.8% saying account/client management.

Looking ahead, the study asked which of 11 work categories would increase the most in importance over the next three years. Strategic planning was named by 41% of respondents, followed by 'relations with special audiences' at 12.5%.

The study also grouped PR activities into three broad work categories - planning and strategizing, supervising others and doing PR work - and again found the importance of strategic planning. Fifty-six percent of respondents say they spend a great deal of time on 'planning and strategizing' with another 36% saying they spend some time on those activities.

Two percent of respondents say they start developing strategies and strategic plans after only one to two years of PR experience, with another 28% saying they start such work with three to five years of experience and 43% saying six to seven years of experience.

'This (study) is a roadmap for us going forward,' says Philip Wescott, chair of the UAB and head of Wescott Consulting in Chadds Ford, PA 'It's the essential foundation; it's invaluable for the stuff that lies ahead.' Wescott says the UAB will use the study to help re-engineer the APR exam. But the study also presents a foundation for the PR business as it moves forward.



Talent pool

Where does PR find the people to provide the new strategic consulting it's being called upon for?

Seltzer, in his talk, was plain about it. 'The biggest issue agencies are facing is a shortage of qualified people,' he says. The Council of Public Relations Firms has been working this year to develop methods for recruiting mid-level executives from other fields into PR. A study it released this fall looked at PR salaries to see if they are competitive with other service professions.

The council survey of 83 firms found that top executives are making an average dollars 250,000 a year while general managers pull in an average dollars 170,000.

Salaries for the most experienced account managers range from dollars 132,300 in general PR and public affairs to dollars 137,000 in healthcare PR. Looking at bonuses, the study found an average bonus of 36% for the top executives at PR firms, roughly in line with other industries.

Not bad money, but not what hotshot business consultants or top-level attorneys are making in today's go-go economy.

Burson, and fellow industry legends Al Golin and Daniel Edelman, agree that the profession today seems to be attracting many more women grads than men - Burson puts the figure at three to one. The business has been striving for ethnic diversity because, Seltzer says, 'we can't be good at our jobs if we're all the same. Until you have other perspectives and voices, you don't know what you're missing.' The same is true for gender diversity.

Higher salaries would help achieve diversity of all sorts, but so will new attitudes toward staff, says Seltzer. His credo: 'pay more, demand less.'

What he means by this is presenting new PR people with multiple opportunity tracks within a firm, a wide range of training to equip them for career changes, and flexibility in hours and working conditions. The days when managers have all their subordinates in one office are over, he says.

So are the days when all PR people did was write press releases. Strategic thinking is in. Now firms have to think strategically about how to staff up for this new business emphasis so that they can prove their worth in bad economic times as well as in good.



WHAT PR PEOPLE DO



Here are the results of a recent survey conducted by The Gary Siegel Organization in Chicago. The study shows that PR practitioners spend most of their time on strategic planning, project management, PR program planning and media relations. Spend a great Spend some Total spending Function deal of time time a great deal or some time Strategic planning 58% 31% 89% PR program planning 57% 31% 88% Project management 60% 26% 86% Media relations 50% 28% 78% Account/client management 47% 20% 67% Special events, conferences, meetings 32% 34% 66% Internal relations 34% 31% 65% Community relations 29% 31% 60% Issues management 23% 32% 55% Relations with special audiences 20% 34% 54% Crisis management 18% 27% 45% Source: The Gary Siegel Organization.





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