New global study reveals deep changes in profession

A groundbreaking global study describes a PR profession being reshaped by forces as current as digital networks and as timeless as generational divides.

A groundbreaking global study describes a PR profession being reshaped by forces as current as digital networks and as timeless as generational divides. Conducted by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations and unveiled last week at a leadership summit in Chicago, the research, sponsored by IBM and Heyman Associates, reflects the views of 4,500 leaders and professionals across 23 countries.
Nearly two-thirds of participants rated four issues as most important in transforming the field, all linked to the digital revolution: managing the speed and flow of information (23%); the role of social media (15.3%); improving measurement (12.2%); and dealing with fast-moving crises (11.9%).  
However, the study also found the transformation enfolds a set of deep changes, including gender, generational, and cultural effects and variations. Three of 10 key themes in the study speak to PR educators, students, and young professionals:
Soft skills and self-insights are the Holy Grail for future leaders. A consistent finding underscored the need for future leaders to improve “soft skills” to increase self-insight and reflection. These include listening, greater cultural awareness, and improved change-management and conflict-management skills. All countries rated change- or conflict-management skills the highest of 12 approaches to improving future leaders.
• Leaders drink too much of their own Kool-Aid. The study revealed striking gaps between older, more experienced workers and young professionals. The latter rated social responsibility, communications measurement, professional image, and transparency issues much higher than older practitioners. They also took a dimmer view of leadership performance, often rating that of the senior PR leader lower than they rated the CEO's understanding of the role of communications.  
• Measurement remains the 800-pound gorilla in many communications units worldwide. The volume and valence of media coverage still rules the PR world. However, that's changing, new standards are being crafted, and those individuals and organizations that develop a vision for measurement are likely to create real competitive advantage.
Younger professionals were more positive about the future of the profession, especially in the growing markets of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Nearly one-third of practitioners in those countries earned their degree in PR, more than double the percentage of those in the US, Germany, and the UK.
Bruce Berger, Ph.D. is Reese Phifer Professor of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Alabama and a member of the board of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. Previously he was VP of PR at Whirlpool. His column focuses on PR students, young professionals, and education. He can be reached at

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