While global agency heads are overwhelmingly optimistic about the growth of public relations and CEOs are increasingly investing in corporate reputation, talent remains the number one issue for PR houses - including in the Middle East, according to the 2020 ICCO World PR Report.
The report – published in partnership with Opinium - delivers a snapshot of the global PR landscape, revealing the issues, trends and opportunities for agencies across seven worldwide regions.
It found that talent remains the biggest hurdle for CEOs, both across the globe and in the region.
"Though all regions of the world except one say that there is a plentiful supply of talent, we simply do not attract and retain enough of it," said Francis Ingham, ICCO chief executive. "At every level of the industry, and in every region of the world, we have a talent problem.
"The reason we fail to recruit and retain the very best is perfectly simple – we do not pay enough. And we do not pay enough because we charge clients too little. At the heart of this is our consistent failure to adequately measure the effectiveness of our work. And our failure, therefore, to charge appropriately for the results that we deliver."
In the Middle East, companies said too high salary expectations, a lack of transferrable skills and difficulty finding quality, good-value recruitment consultants were the biggest barriers to sourcing talent from outside the industry.
The research, however, uncovered optimism and profitability in every region. When asked to express their levels of agreement with the statement ‘I am optimistic about the growth of the public relations market’ on a 10 point scale, PR leaders revealed a global average of 7 out 10.
The buoyancy of global PR is further evidenced by data on expectations for profitability in the coming year. Across all regions, participants scored an average of 6.7 in terms of confidence in increased profit.
Specifically in the Middle East, corporate reputation, followed by marketing communication were the areas that organisation saw the most growth last year, while strategic consulting and corporate responsibility are the areas in which they expect to see the most growth over the next five years.
In the region, agencies expect multimedia to be the area they invest in most this year, followed by social media and influencer marketing.
When asked what issues they believe pose the greatest challenges, PRs said economic conditions across the Middle East was the biggest threat, followed by clients unwilling to commit to sufficient funds.
Technology and IT will be the biggest drivers of growth for the industry.
Ingham said, globally, there have been some noteworthy developments since last year.
"The shift towards strategic advice is accelerating. I am convinced that there will always be, in every region of the world, a place for tactical delivery, and old-school media relations. But... our industry definitely takes a more strategic role with every passing year.
"The top-two expected areas of growth are strategic consultancy and corporate reputation – excellent news.
"The other striking development is the rise of purpose. In every region of the world corporate purpose has moved up the agenda," Ingham continued.
"The concept of value-driven purpose is here in a big way for our industry."
The report also showed that CEOs continued to invest in corporate reputation, true in every region of the world.
Marketing spend continues to move towards our industry, and away from other ones. Agencies are offering services which traditionally were the preserve of other disciplines.
Strategic consulting, the second-largest area of growth last year, accounts for just under a third (29 per cent) of all growth and is expected to be the largest area of practice over the next five years.
Other findings include:
• Global AVE usage has fallen to 46 per cent from 52 per cent over the past year
• LinkedIn is the most popular B2B social media platform for agencies in the Middle East and Africa, followed by Twitter and Facebook
• Agency heads cite retaining top talent as the biggest industry challenge and believe high salaries are the most significant barrier to sourcing talent from outside the industry
Ingham said: "As 2020 approaches, the global PR industry faces the future in fine shape. Growth, optimism and profitability have become the norm. The industry has transformed itself, embracing new skills and new methods of communicating. In short, PR stands tall."
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