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,
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
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.