In the last decade or two, the rise of social media and other digital channels and changes to the traditional media model have reshaped PR and its key functions.
A recent survey conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for Public Relations gathered information from professionals and students about additional changes expected in PR’s future. The findings from these surveys revealed trends and predictions that have important implications for the entire PR community.
Global Communications Report
Earlier this year, USC’s Annenberg Center for Public Relations released its second annual Global Communications Report. The study conducted three surveys, one to PR students, one for PR professionals, and one for marketers, conducted through the Association of National Advertisers.
The results of these surveys revealed interesting insight about the current state of the industry and where it is headed. Although the results predict, rather than guarantee, the course of the industry’s future, it provides professionals with a helpful understanding of the skills needed for future success, as well as trends to be mindful of as the industry moves forward.
PR’s most desired skills
Whether crafting a news release, an article about your organization, or a social media post, PR professionals must be able to communicate well in writing. The importance of writing was reflected in the survey’s results.
Unlike results from the previous year’s survey, however, writing ranked as the second most important skill for PR pros to have. This year, PR professionals and marketers collectively ranked strategic thinking as the most desirable PR skill.
This is likely due in part to the changing landscape of public relations. As cited earlier, PR and its integral functions have evolved with the changing digital world, so professionals must be able to think creatively and strategically to continue to deliver value to clients and organizations.
Will measurement continue to matter?
Measurement is a frequently discussed subject within the PR and communication communities. Professionals tend to highlight measurement as a key tactic to prove the value of PR. According to the report, only 34 percent of respondents choose traditional measurement as the top choice to analyze PR’s value.
Alternatively, 77 percent of respondents chose demonstrating how PR achieves business objectives as the best way to show PR’s value. This does still involve measurement, but it requires the analysis of less tangible metrics, such as purchase intent and business reputation.
Regardless of the mode of measurement, it will continue to be important for PR professionals to develop and employ analytic strategies to prove the value of their work.
The changing landscape of media
The PESO model, which stands for paid, earned, shared, and owned, provides a useful framework to guide PR professionals’ approach to media coverage. The last two years of this survey found that revenue from earned media activities continues to decline, while media budgets for paid and owned media will increase.
Additionally, 60 percent of professionals believe that branded content and influencer marketing, which both fall under the paid media umbrella, will be increasingly important trends in the next five years.
With media trends likely to move in this direction, it requires PR professionals to develop their skill set. Specifically, as cited in the survey, professionals will have to sharpen their media buying skills, which respondents currently rank last among skills they believed would be important for the future of PR.
The future of PR and its professionals
When asked about how the industry will be described going forward, the survey yielded different responses from PR professionals and marketers than PR students.
Eighty-seven percent of professionals responded that they believed the term “public relations” will no longer accurately describe their scope of work in five years, indicating a lack of belief in the viability of the current structure of PR descriptions and functions. PR students, on the other hand, appear to have more confidence in the current descriptors of the industry. Only 18 percent believe that PR should be renamed.
Additionally, just four percent of PR students did not feel confident in explaining PR. The assurance that future PR professionals feel in understanding the functions of the industry, as well as confidence in its current structure, indicates a positive future for the industry and a new generation of competent professionals.
Although the results of this study predict the future of PR and do not guarantee the changes, the answers do suggest important trends for the future of the industry. PR professionals must remain flexible and proficient in the PESO model, continue to emphasize the importance of writing and measurement, and educate the future of the industry to ensure continued success.