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10 insights for public relations from the 2017 European Communications Monitor

European researchers have spotlighted challenges facing public relations agencies and teams in the eleventh edition of the European Communications Monitor.

The European Communication Monitor (ECM) is a rare example of excellence between communication theory and practice.

The ECM 2017 survey is based on responses from 3,387 communication professionals in 50 countries.

It’s the most detailed and robust longitudinal benchmarking study available that characterises the challenges and opportunities facing our profession.

Analysis is based on 20 countries and different types of organisations including companies, non-profits, governmental, and agencies.

The 136 page report is available as a free download. There’s also an excellent summary of ten talking points that reflect on the future of organisational communication (opens as a PDF).

The ECM 2017 survey was organised by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), with support from PRIME Research.

#1 Visualisation in communication

94.4% of European communication professionals believe that visual communication will gain in importance. This is driven by a rising stakeholder demand for visual communication in the last three years.

Most organisations use more elements like online videos, infographics and instant photos in their messaging. But only 4.6% have implemented advanced management processes.

#2 Bots as an opportunity or threat to public discourse

The topic of social bots is largely neglected by many communication professionals. Only one third (35.9%) follow the debate about social bots and 15.9% have no idea about the topic at all.

Bots are mainly seen as a threat for public debates and organisational reputation alike. 73.2% agree that social bots present ethical challenges, although four out of ten respondents also see potential opportunity.

#3 Shift to social

Coping with the digital evolution and the social web is the most important issue for communication management in the next three years.

However, longitudinal data collected since 2007 from nearly 25,000 communication professionals throughout Europe has repeatedly found the strategic alignment of communication and organisational goals as the most important issue.

#4 Channel shift from print to social exaggerated

Social media and social networks are considered by far (90.4%) to be the most important channel to address stakeholders. Other online communication comes second (83.1%), followed by press and media relations with online newspapers and magazines (82.4%).

Longitudinal analyses show that new and social media technology complement traditional channels but they do not replace them. Accordingly, the shift towards online and mobile is consistently overestimated by practitioners. Media relations with print newspapers/magazines are still stronger than expected.

#5 Hypermodernity

A large majority of the surveyed professionals (71.5%) witness the cultural transformation towards a hyper modern culture in their country, characterised by a culture of hyper consumption, hyper change, and hyper individualism.

Half of communicators (52.3%) confirm that this has already changed the communication between their organisation and stakeholders.

#6 Change is a constant

43.5% of the organisations surveyed are already changing from postmodern to hypermodern with characteristics such as continuous change, decentralised IT, rapid adjustments of the workforce, creativity and ethics of perceived responsibility.

The transition to hypermodern culture is strongest in consultancies (57.2%) and private companies (51.8%).

#7 Measurement

Benchmarking is still a largely neglected field in strategic communication.

Communication departments have generally implemented fewer quality management processes (40.7%) compared to other organisational functions. If they assess their activities at all, they focus predominantly on the performance or impact of messaging activities (up to 51.1%).

#8 Public relations as a management discipline

When asked to reflect on the several contributions of communication departments to their organisation’s success, communication leaders valued nearly all operational and strategic contributions quite highly.

Supporting operational goals/processes of other departments (86.8%), the daily management (86.7%) and the constant improvement of the department (85.8%) were mentioned most often.

#9 Value of public relations: salaries

In 2017, almost every tenth communicator surveyed earns more than €150,000 base salary per year (9.1%). Approximately one in five (21.1%) earns less than €30,000 per year.

The portion of communication heads and agency CEOs with an annual income over €150,000 stays relatively stable since 2009 (between 13.4 and 18.4%) as well as for other hierarchical levels (between 6.1 and 9.6%).

#10 Defining an excellent communications department

Excellent communication departments are using quality management more intensively. They have also adopted all kinds of benchmarking approaches to a larger extent.

They are better in implementing management routines for visual communication and are more likely to be based within postmodern or hypermodern organisations.

Excellent departments are more open to external issues and are noticeably more engaged in public debates about current and more general societal issues outside the core business tasks.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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