Opinion: Web leads renewed industry confidence

2006 got off to an uncertain start for the PR industry, but gauging the mood at this year's PRWeek Awards, the sector now feels buoyant.

On the 20th anniversary of this event - on Tuesday night - almost 1,600 guests crammed into the Great Room at London's Grosvenor House. It was the biggest industry awards so far, with over 800 entries and more than 50 judges involved.

Many of the senior practitioners there reported a positive second half of the year, with evidence of increasing budgets and heightened client enthusiasm for PR techniques. Compare this with the current mood in the advertising world and we sense a sea-change in the marketing services sphere, in PR's favour.

It may be significant that online communications was a recurring theme through many of Tuesday night's winning entries. The Campaign of the Year, from Cake Group for a Nintendo computer game, exploited viral marketing, while Tory leader David Cameron's election as Communicator of the Year was largely down to his enthusiasm for new media as he strives to woo a younger audience.

 Public and private sector organisations alike are acutely aware that reputations are moulded quickly through an ever-proliferating spectrum of media. More importantly they realise they cannot simply sit back and accept the results; they must engage in a constructive dialogue with stakeholders to influence this process.  Hence they are investing in PR.

However, as the industry gains in confidence, there are dangers. Ad and media-buying agencies are not going to take this lying down. Many are setting up blogging and online comms divisions to compete with their PR agency cousins. At the same time, the fight for talented staff to service new business has prompted a merry-go-round of personnel in parts of the agency world, with grossly inflated salaries. These are the challenges the industry must overcome if it is to achieve sustainable growth.

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