Coinciding as it does with the UK industry Census, there is vital insight here for PR consultants and in-house comms professionals alike.
At a macro level, PR spend by big American organisations stuttered in 2017 – thanks to an aggressive politico-economic environment – with some signs of recovery over the past quarter. This has meant the global agency networks headquartered there – Edelman, Weber Shandwick and Ketchum etc – which are
still heavily reliant on home market revenues, have been under real pressure.
These struggles are reflected in only three per cent aggregate growth in the revenues going through PR consultancies globally. It also explains the accelerating drive for the big PR networks to consolidate. WPP’s recently announced merger of Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe will be the first of many.
The EMEA region was more buoyant, particularly in the UK and Middle East. In Britain PR spend may not have received the double-digit post-Brexit vote boost it enjoyed in 2016, but eight per cent aggregate growth in 2017 certainly suggests most sectors remain lively; particularly public affairs, corporate, healthcare and tech.
PR’s ability to influence key audiences – from politicians and regulators to online influencers – in a cost-effective way, continues to win over both CEOs and CMOs.
Indeed, one continues to observe real investment in comms talent and innovation by client organisations themselves. This explains why average in-house salaries have risen 5.7 per cent since 2016 to £46,078 and agency salaries have risen less. Also, 66 per cent of in-house communicators now view PR as ‘a profession’ rather than ‘an industry’.
Communicators within brands are gaining influence and the ability to produce more content in-house. This is why agencies are reporting a shift to more project-based work and being forced to pitch more often, diversify into new sectors and innovate in digital content and reputation management techniques.
The consultancies rising to these challenges are the ones that are continuing to enjoy double-digit growth.
And for all these reasons we are likely to see consolidation too among mid-sized and smaller PR consultancies. Not only do these challenges demand a certain level of scale, but it has become increasingly apparent that the UK is over-supplied with PR agencies.
The consultancies that will thrive and acquire others will be those with strong leadership, a clear vision, financial nous and the ability to hire and retain top quality people.
In-house comms departments and agencies alike report talent management as a top priority. But with PR professionals now working an average of 45 hours per week – a 24 per cent increase since 2016 – the real challenge for employers is striking the right balance between enterprising ambition and a fulfilling, life-balanced working culture.
PR remains the growth comms discipline but only if it can continue to attract the best talent.
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