10 practical lessons from the 2015 European Communication Monitor
Here are some recommendations for the future of public relations that weren't included in the 2015 European Communication Monitor (ECM). Communications and public relations is a practice. Research should be practical rather than theoretical. It should help move the business forward. The European Communication Monitor 2015 (ECM) almost achieves this goal.
ECM is a longitudinal transnational survey in strategic communication. The ninth edition is based on responses from 2,253 communication professionals from 41 countries.
The study is conducted by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), supported by PRIME Research and Communication Director Magazine.
It tells the story of an industry slowly adapting to new forms of media and technology but struggling to align itself with the organisations that it serves.
There's an excellent summary of ten talking points that reflect on the future of the industry (opens as a PDF). Regular readers of my blog will be well-used to the issues spotlighted.
ECM stops short of recommending actions to respond to the issues it has identified. I'm going to attempt to fill in the gaps in this blog post.
#1 Future relevance of mass media
ECM says: 61.3% of European communication professionals believe that strategic partnerships with mass media (co-produced content, joint publications and services) will gain importance within the next three years. Yet only 36.3% of organisations have established frequent collaborations today.
My view: The advertising/subscription traditional media business model no longer works. Work is ongoing to create new, sustainable models. Branded and sponsored content, paid promotion and new digital advertising solutions including native advertising are all possible solutions. Practitioners need to be open minded on paid media solutions. The media needs our help to build its future. We also need to be aware of the ethical considerations.
#2 Integrating communication
ECM says: The vast majority of respondents (85.6%) see a strong need to integrate communication activities – because all communication functions nowadays use the full range of instruments online/offline, sometimes only under disparate names.
My view: Integrated activities have become normalised. But don't celebrate too early. The next job is to knock down the barriers between departmental silos. Public relations, customer relations, sales, marketing and human resources should all work together. Public relations should be part of every area of an organisation. See my recent blog post on this issue.
#3 Content strategy
ECM says: Popular concepts like content strategy, content marketing, brand journalism and native advertising are acknowledged and considered important by communicators. However there is a large gap between importance and real use in most European countries.
My view: Content isn't a strategy. It's the medium, typically words, pictures and occasionally video, that an organisation uses to tell its story. Public relations has traditionally done this job with the media. It needs to work with marketing and sales so that customer content is part of its remit. Marketing is currently going it alone.
#4 Strategic issue
ECM says: Linking business strategy and communication continues to be the most important issue for communication management in Europe. It is mentioned by 42.9% of the communicators, leading the list of top issues for the third year in a row.
My view: The public relations business is polarising. It's always been the case but the issue is more acute than ever. The enlightened 42.9% are aligning firmly behind the strategic purpose of their organisations. The remainder, unable to prove their contribution to the organisation, will continue to face shrinking budgets and will ultimately become glorified administrators, or be out of a job.
#5 Value contribution
ECM says: When explaining the relevance of strategic communication to top executives, eight out of ten communicators (79.8%) commonly talk about the positive effects of reputation, brands or organisational culture. Only every second (55.4%) tries to demonstrate economic effects.
My view: This take out point relates to the strategic role of public relations made in the previous point. The data reflects the schism in the business. Every public relations campaign should be aligned and measured against its contribution to the organisations. Read that back I did. I can't believe that had to write it after the focus on measurement evaluation over the last decade
#6 Organisational listening
ECM says: While 78.3% of all organisations have established messaging strategies for reaching out to stakeholders, only 55.7% use listening strategies to monitor the public sphere or integrate feedback from stakeholders.
My view: What's the first thing you should do at the outset of a public relations campaign? You should listen to your publics to understand their point of view and use it to form the basis of a dialogue. Yet only 55.7% of organisations use listening. We have access unlike ever before to platforms to collect data from stakeholders and third-party tools to proactively listen and understand relationships in social networks. If you don't you're in the business of marketing at best or spam at worst. It's that schism thing again.
#7 Measurement and evaluation
ECM says: Most organisations focus on output measures, i.e. media clippings, but neglect both costs (input) and impact on organisational targets or resources (outflow). Only 43.3% use measurement insights to lead teams and agencies.
My view: Only 43.3% of public relations practitioners use measurement to guide their work. The remaining 56.7% don't know what they don't know. There's a fixation in public relations to count output and assume that these are a proxy of success. It's got worse thanks to social media because there's more stuff we can count. Please stop it.
#8 Relationship between agencies and clients
ECM says: Communication departments and agencies have very different perceptions of why they work together. Also, there is no agreement about the main reasons for conflict in such relationships.
My view: Excellent public relations is valued by organisations. Those agencies that deliver strategic campaigns aligned to organisational objectives will have good relationships with the organisations that they serve. Agencies that deliver tactical campaigns are unlikely to enjoy the same level of respect and will have to work much harder to maintain a good relationship and pricing. It's no surprise that public relations is increasing coming under the scrutiny of procurement.
ECM says: The annual income of communication professionals in Europe is quite diversified, with 3.8% earning more than €200,000 per year and 25.1% not more than €30,000.
My view: I'm not sure what the point is here? There's a range of salaries in every profession. Public relations is a great business. If you're driven and determined you'll do well. Practitioners operating at the highest levels are well paid. The issue of the value individuals deliver to an organisation, outlined in earlier points, will also play out here.
#10 Characteristics of excellent communication function
ECM says: Excellent communication departments are stronger aligned to the top management, more geared towards organisational listening, and much better in measuring the business impact of communication.
My view: The story of ECM is very clear. Head for the high ground. Practitioners should pursue public relations as a strategic discipline with the purpose and professional rigour that entails. Embrace new forms of media and the opportunity to deliver integrated work across organisational silos. Align and measure performance against the vision, purpose and objectives of an organisation.