PR must further explore digital space in 2012

As we look to 2012, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is finalizing its key initiatives for our 22,000 professional and 10,000 student members.

As we look to 2012, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is finalizing its key initiatives for our 22,000 professional and 10,000 student members.

Central to PRSA's mission is advancing the PR profession by advancing the professional. To achieve this, PRSA serves to advocate on a number of issues, none more important than increasing the business value of PR, upholding ethical standards, and fostering a more diverse base of professionals.

For 2012, PRSA has several advocacy initiatives on its radar.

First is to better exploit the advantages and resources of the digital age. There exists a clear opportunity to raise the share of voice of PRSA members and that of the profession. We must enhance our role as the champion of meeting and exceeding the changing needs of our members, the profession and the business community. Incumbent in that challenge is a broad outreach to a wider base of professionals, whose responsibilities include digital marketing, word of mouth marketing, and other emerging modes of communications that encompass foundational principles grounded in the art of relationship building and management.

An offshoot is to examine new opportunities for industry expansion. One sector we believe is poised for considerable growth is word of mouth marketing. According to the Veronis Suhler Stevenson 2011-15 Communications Industry Forecast, annual US spending on word of mouth marketing, $5.6 billion, will overtake spending on traditional PR, $5.4 billion, by 2015.

Second is to grow the value of PR through the inclusion of more nontraditional hires, such as bloggers, social-media influencers, former journalists, and analysts. Diversity of thought, background, and experience must remain a hallmark of the profession, and it is something we aim to increase within PRSA's membership.

Third is to investigate the profession's ethical use of interns. It is one of the industry's most pernicious, yet least understood, problems. A 2011 update to PRSA's code of ethics made clear our belief that it is unethical to not provide some type of compensation to students who perform work for an employer. To eradicate this problem, we will continue to speak out against the use of unpaid interns, based on actionable research, we plan to implement that will help the industry understand and address the issue with practical ideas and solutions.

Finally, we will uphold our commitment to promoting a workforce that more closely mirrors the communities in which we live and work in terms of age, race, ethnicity, and gender. Members understand that increasing diversity within the profession will be key to their organizations' success in the year to come, as businesses continue to seek a more global perspective to their communications initiatives.

The year ahead will undoubtedly present challenges and opportunities for PRSA and the PR industry to expand in collaboration, influence, and value. We must evolve with the changing dynamics of the global economy and client interests, while better serving the needs of professionals at all experience and skill levels. It is a challenge we believe PRSA is uniquely positioned to achieve.

Gerard Corbett is 2012 chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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