The School of Communication and Journalism of the University of Southern California (USC Annenberg School) conducts annual research on the issues and trends that shape the future of the public relations industry, called the Global Communications Report. Several national and international organizations, including the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, support the academic institution on an initiative to guide professionals in the sector.
The report paints a portrait of a very dynamic profession that is subject to the main currents of change that society and the economy are experiencing. A look at the picture leads to a first and obvious conclusion: professionals have to constantly adapt to this new reality of a digital world. Staying in the comfort zone almost certainly means losing momentum and becoming obsolete very quickly.
1. Change moves faster than in-house professionals
In fact, the first trend that the research detects is related to the speed of change. Seventy percent of respondents believe that the profession will undergo a “significant” or “drastic” change in the next five years. However, only 36% of in-house managers feel they are sufficiently prepared to deal with it. On the other hand, 61% of agency professionals do say they are prepared to deal with such a transformation.
It is curious to see how the profession remains linked to one of its ‘classics’ or foundations, in this case, media relationship management. In fact, the communicators who were consulted place the very transformation of the media as the most influential factor in the evolution of the industry, followed by technological innovation, greater access to data and the disruption of traditional business models. There is a global concern that will certainly continue to be the focus of attention in the coming years: climate change, accompanied by another universal concern, shifting demographics.
2. Advertising beats publicity
The Global Communication Report paints a disturbing picture for conventional media. Citizens will consume information without caring too much about its character, that is, whether it is paid, earned, shared or owned (PESO). 64% of communicators believe that the consumer will not distinguish between them when choosing information, moreover, 59% think that they wouldn’t even care about the origin.
One of the trends detected is that paid media (branded content, integrated campaigns and advertising) will gain weight, to the detriment of the earned media. We could say that advertising beats publicity. This is a territory of confluence with marketing, given that branded content is located in an ambiguous space between both functions.
It is not good news for the media that citizens are less and less concerned about the company or the brand that editorially backs information. This explains the concern held by communication professionals about the effects that changes in the media landscape have on our environment.
3. More leadership, more strategy
The 2018 edition insists on a requirement that already appeared in previous editions: the leadership of communication professionals within organisations. This reiteration has, in my opinion, two interpretations: first, that we are aware of the need for leadership positions to command an increasingly strategic and complex role; and second, that we also realize that, to do so, we need to develop more management skills to convince top executives and their environment of the scope and value of our activities.
83% of the professionals consulted believe that the function will be more or much more relevant in the coming years. The greater importance explains to a large extent the call for greater leadership, which should also be used to manage relations with other departments, especially marketing. So much so that 87% estimate that communication and marketing will share more integration spaces.
Proof that the frontiers between communication and marketing are blurring is that communicators point out that influencing and real-time marketing are territories that we need to explore in order to be up to date, although the level of demand is lower than in the fields of social networks, multimedia content development and data analysis.
The ability to communicate in writing and verbally, skills that have always been part of our profession, will continue to be factors of success in professional practice in spite of digitalization. In fact, they appear to be the most important skills you’ll ever have.
4. The profession needs to raise its ethical standards
Ethics and reputation have become closely linked in recent times. The negative in the photo has been more frequent than the positive. The hypertransparency caused by technological advances and the citizen’s desire to participate have placed organizations under the spotlight in a scenario of permanent scrutiny. Communicators believe that the right behaviors will be a growing demand in the business world and that the industry will have to demonstrate better ethical behavior.
The Communication sector will have to work harder on its own reputation because half of those surveyed consider that the image of the profession shows a lack of ethics, a percentage that reaches 57% in the United States. This deficit is a problem in attracting talent because three out of four PR students say that ethical behavior can be a determining factor in their professional development. A similar percentage of communicators indicate that the chief executive of the organization should be involved in leading the ethical debate.
“If you think the profession has changed, you’re right. If you think the change will stop, you’re wrong,” says Fred Cook, director of USC Annenberg in the preamble to the report. Certainly to be prepared for change you must first want to change, a path that not all professionals are willing to take. At least they won’t be able to argue that the signs weren’t clear.