EDITORIAL: Today's challenge, tomorrow's reward

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that bad times are "occasions that a

good learner wouldn't miss." And it is with that sentiment in mind that

the PR industry, and particularly up and coming PR execs, should be

steeling themselves for a challenging, yet exciting year ahead.

Last week, PRWeek reported on yet another round of job cuts, and there

are few honest managers in the business right now who can claim they

have not been hurt by either the dot-com collapse, the softening of the

economy, or the new war against terrorism.

These things affect us all, but given the fascinating challenges

presented by such issues, it was disappointing to hear that a quarter of

PR professionals who responded to a recent Council of PR Firms survey

felt their commitment to the industry had decreased in recent


(We will not deal here with the 6% who felt PR was not relevant to the

world at large, for they have either an extremely limited understanding

of the information-centric world in which we live, or such little

interest in work, in general, that they would be better off out of our


But the others who are questioning their commitment should - as PRWeek

has said before - remember that their work for clients in the private

sector is stimulating consumption, stimulating investment, and,

importantly, saving jobs. Their work in public affairs is keeping many

meaningful issues on the agenda when they might otherwise disappear from

public or government view. Additionally, the work they are doing for the

non-profit sector is keeping many beleaguered charities afloat.

Those who feel depressed about the PR industry's immediate future should

listen to the industry leaders, the vast majority of whom are envisaging

- at worst - a flat year in terms of revenues in 2002, and a growth year

in terms of the industry's reach into new business areas. (See analysis,

opposite page.)

Those leaders admit that it will be tough to grow in the tech sector -

although the worst is undoubtedly over in tech - or in financial or

media relations. They also confess that many of their biggest clients

are trimming PR budgets.

But clients are not, as in previous recessions, dropping their agencies

altogether, which is a mark of the progress the industry has made in

demonstrating its value at such times. In addition, the anecdotal

evidence suggests there is still a lot of new business out there at the

moment. In particular agency chiefs are bullish about the prospects for

healthcare, for crisis communications, for community relations, for

philanthropic and cause-related efforts, and for work in the business

intelligence arena.

Not only will this recession grow the industry's expertise in such

areas, but it will force agencies and corporate communications

departments to demonstrate the value of their more basic -

non-consultancy - services in terms of return on investment. Those who

can underline and measure the real impact of campaigns will emerge from

this recession as fitter businesses, likely to increase their share of

the average marketing budget.

PR pros with the stomach for a challenging year, will reap the


Those who do not should, frankly, step aside.

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