ST. LOUIS: Corporate PR people are becoming increasingly involved in looking at the competitive landscape for their companies and trying to anticipate future business trends, according to a new survey from Fleishman-Hillard and Fuld & Company.The survey, released exclusively to PRWeek, found that 68% of companies polled have an in-house competitive intelligence function, 4% use an outside service, and 15% do both.
PR people are using that information in shaping their communications messages, the study found. Fleishman reports that 74% of respondents said information about competitors' business strategies and practices are used by corporate communications staff on a regular basis. Information about competitors' products, pricing, and product development are used by 68% of the communications staff surveyed.
"What's new here is that communications people are using the competitive-intelligence function to be business consultants as well as communicators,
said Lisa Richter, a senior partner and director of Fleishman's Knowledge Solutions group. "To be an effective communicator today, one needs almost to take a crash MBA."
Ron Penoyer, an SVP in Fleishman's competitive-intelligence area, agreed: "The role of the PR executive continues to change, and this data is really buttressing the fact."
Companies increasingly expect PR people to cull through the mountains of information available about competitors and the marketplace and predict coming trends, said Leonard Fuld, president of Fuld & Company, a consulting firm with which Fleishman cross-markets competitive-intelligence services.
"Information is something everyone else has. The intelligence PR people need is not the same as the information they need. They need to keep management or clients ahead of the game,
Victor Chayet, senior manager of corporate communications with Denver software maker JD Edwards, noted that part of his job is to track his company's competition. "We need to carve out the time to think about these things,
he said. "Our greatest struggle is for context. We need to have bigger, more active ears."
Sears Roebuck maintains a business-information office to follow retail trends. PR's job is to do media analysis to keep management apprised of trends and developments to consider in business decision-making, said Ron Culp, SVP of public relations and government affairs.
"A lot of companies are so busy focusing on what they need to do, that very little time focused on customers,
Culp said, adding that this was changing, and that PR people are now involved in that process.