Communicators: 'It’s our time'

The latest edition of PRWeek’s seminal industry survey shows the PR function is more valued than ever at organizations, but that brings with it additional pressure to deliver.

Communicators: 'It’s our time'

PRWeek and Boston University’s Communications Bellwether Survey is the most credible annual in-depth analysis of the PR industry and bears close analysis for anyone looking to understand the trends shaping this industry and where it’s going next.

After a record 26% increase in respondents last year, the 2021 edition did even better, attracting 2,605 PR pros to fill it out, up a bumper 27%, a majority on the client side. After four years in the field, the survey truly is the most credible and in-depth report about the PR industry available.

The sector delivered on the promise of last year’s report to become even more crucial to the CEO and C-suites of enterprises in a disruptive and ever-changing business environment.

In Chris Daniels’ feature to accompany the survey launch, Edelman U.S. CEO Lisa Osborne Ross noted that the CCO has become a necessary right hand to the CEO, much like the CFO was in a shareholder-focused era. That’s encouraging for a function that historically suffered from insecurity about its perception within and outside their organizations.

Looking back to 2019’s survey, at that time C-suites were perceived as dinosaurs holding back the change and extra sway communications could – and should – play in enterprises. But last year’s health pandemic, racial reckoning and febrile political climate led to CEOs leaning on increasingly agile PR teams to navigate vital internal communications, crises, reputational issues, progress on purpose and health counsel.

Culture was top of mind for in-house and agency PR leaders, especially as many people were forced to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Weber Shandwick CEO Gail Heimann told PRWeek: “The pandemic got everyone, including organizations such as ours, focused on culture. It made us realize we need to be thoughtful and intentional about it, because if culture is at the center of an organization, clear, consistent communication becomes its foundation.”

And Procter & Gamble’s Damon Jones noted that “so much of corporate culture is absorbed when you are in a building and interacting with colleagues, organizations had to really work hard at creating cultural norms versus things happening just by virtual proximity.”

I was particularly struck by the strong data point that participants said strategic purpose was important in their organizations (4.2 on a 5-point scale). However, that story changed considerably in relation to brands taking a public stand on societal issues, with respondents rating it low in importance (2.9). And the data show that the ability to drive authentic purpose is much easier at enterprises where PR and marketing are truly integrated.

On diversity, equity and inclusion, only 31% of PR pros surveyed agree their organizations are changing in response to the racial reckoning of 2020. Younger professionals, in particular, are less enthusiastic about their organizations’ commitment to DE&I compared to older practitioners (3.62 versus 4.15 on a 5-point scale).

At agencies, firms are supporting clients in delivering on heightened expectations across the board, as well as driving the contribution of communications technology in applying actionable insights that benefit their clients, which are still lagging in this area.

All of these areas are covered in more detail from an editorial analysis and data point of view in the premium edition of the report.

Our research partners at Boston University, Arunima Krishna, Ray Kotcher and Don Wright, did their usual superb job helping field the survey and collating findings into a meaningful format. We thank them for that.

These efforts contribute to a premium edition of the survey that is a must-read for all PR professionals as they look to deliver on the increased trust placed in them as teams and individuals.

As Osborne Ross rightly notes: “That genie is not going back in the bottle. The CCO is now used to being at the table and there is a desire to keep them there."

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