Reasons to be optimistic about the future of public relations
New data from accountants Kingston Smith makes for grim reading at first glance. It suggests that margins at the top 40 UK PR agencies are at a 10-year low at 11.9%. According to PRWeek staff costs are up, operating costs are up, and billings per head are down.
This is the story of an industry facing up to the huge challenges that will continued to be played out through the remainder of the decade.
The Kingston Smith data is no surprise. The publicity business is commoditised, and reskilling around new forms of media, content and networks, requires investment.
I’d urge you to take comfort from the data that characterises our business. You don’t have to look very hard to find evidence to support the future potential of public relations.
There are plenty of signs that the profession is embracing change head-on.
- The developing remit of public relations was signposted by the CIPR’s State of the Profession survey (February 2014). It reported earlier this year that more than 70% of public relations and marketing communication departments are working more closely with at least one other department than has previously been the case.
- Ed Milliband’s report Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World (July 2014) reports that the need for digital skills including communication is going to grow in the UK: the Science Council estimates that the ICT workforce alone will grow by 39% by 2030. Meanwhile a report sponsored by O2 called The Future Digital Skills Needs (September 2013) of the UK Economy (2013) estimated that 745,000 additional workers with digital skills would be needed to meet rising demand from employers between 2013 and 2017.
- The Guardian has crunched the recent data (November 2014) from the Office of National Statistics and concluded that public relations is among the top ten best paid jobs in the UK. It reported that directors are paid an average of £77,619.
- In a report Winning the global race? (June 2014), published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) to mark VQ Day 2014, public relations ranks fourth amongst the top occupations of 2012. The report predicts a net growth of over one million jobs over the next 10 years in the ‘business, media and public service professions’ sector.
- The PRCA PR Census 2013 (December 2013) reported that the UK PR industry is worth £9.62 billion and employs 62,000 people. The report stitches together data from more than 1,500 professionals, combined with information from the 2011 PR Census, the PRCA’s benchmarking studies, PRWeek’s 2013 Top 150 PR Consultancies, and the Office of National Statistics.
The reality is that change will remain the only constant in our business over the remainder of this decade.
We’re making the shift towards becoming a professional discipline with the rigor that entails as well as tackling the issue of modernisation.
Professionalism for me is a barrier to entry in the form of foundation knowledge, a Code of Conduct that can be publically tested, continuing professional development, qualifications and a healthy exchange between academia and practice.
Professionalism is not accepting the lack of diversity and the gender pay gap of £12,000 that is the reality. It’s tackling the issue of the reputation of our business head on.
I'd urge you to join a professional membership organisation such as the CIPR, if you haven’t already, and start your own journey to professionalism. It’s the only way that we will improve the reputation of the profession.
Your profession needs you.
The modernisation of practice is a huge opportunity but demands fundamental change to the models of the agencies and organisations for which we work.
New forms of media are enabling us to return to our roots of truly two-way conversation and deliver incredible value to organisations.
We’re shifting from publicity, to influencer relations, community relations and social business. There’s never been such an exciting time to work in public relations.
Public relations has a role not just within communications but within an area of a modern organisation from customer service to sales, and human resources to operations.
It is the eyes, ears and conscience of an organisation and is increasingly represented at the highest levels.
Please join me in seizing that opportunity.