10 opportunities in the UK’s £10 billion public relations market

10 opportunities in the UK’s £10 billion public relations market


Public relations is an anxious, insecure profession. It needn't be that way. It is customary when public relations practitioner gather to moan and bitch about the profession.

We obsess about the lack of understanding about the role of public relations, we agonise about the pace of change and we fret about being dragged down by lousy practice.

Public relations is an anxious, insecure profession. It’s reflected in topics explored in blog posts, conferences and trade media.

Reflection and self-examination are important for development but if this is how we view ourselves, how will our contribution to commerce and society ever be respected?

Get a £10 billion grip

The UK public relations market is worth almost £10 billion according to the PRCA’s 2015 Annual report (opens as a PDF). It employs 62,000 people in consultancies, in-house roles and freelancers. This is a substantial market that is making a significant contribution to the UK economy.

The Public Relations Institute of Ireland invited me to explore this issue at its conference in Dublin yesterday.

We’re in the midst of our 2016 planning cycle at Ketchum so growth and change are front of mind. I framed a discussion around ten key areas of change within our business. It’s a well-worn tactic but it’s social.

#1 Agile

Real time working demands an overhaul of workflow. A 24 hour review process won’t cut it when a trend is breaking on social media. Ketchum has built an integrated and agile workflow that we’ve packaged as a proposition called StoryWorks. Our newsrooms combine listening, strategists, creative and community management all working in a live environment.

#2 Creative

The Cannes International Festival of Creativity teaches us that memorable brands tell stories that respond to whatever motivates their public or audience across all forms of media. Award winning work is based on smart creative. The content frequently engages the audience directly as part of the campaign. Does the brand you represent have a strong narrative? Tell me a story.

#3 Paid

There are two camps emerging within practice. Half shuns paid while the other predicts that public relations is set to overturn the advertising business. As media fragments and amplification, paid influencers, native and promotion become part of their business we dodge this at our peril. Equally public relations isn’t realistically going to seriously threaten the £20bn UK ad industry just yet.

#4 Authenticity

Modern media is social. It is human. Brands needs to engage with people in plain language and not in polished brand speak. You can also dump your stock photography. One of the favourite places on the internet is the Condescending Corporate Facebook page which pokes fun and the nonsense that brands say and do. It’s good for a giggle and will make you think.

#5 Automation

A burgeoning tool market has emerged to support campaign planning across fragmented forms of media and devices. The #PRstack crowdsourced project that I kickstarted earlier in 2015 has sought to characterise the market. While you should always automate with care, check out the 50 how-to guides to explore your workflow can be improved and how to simplify repetitive tasks.

#6 Data

When I started out in public relations in the nineties planning was as crude as aligning media titles with an audience segment. In the noughties we discovered demographics and segmentation and matched media accordingly.  In 2015 we can identify a community and influencers around a geography, industry, topic, or market using tools to explore networks.

#7 Talent, diversity and equality

The public relations business is not representative of the publics that it seeks to represent. The CIPR has issued policy guidance related to the gender pay gap and the under representation of women in senior positions. The PRCA is offering mentoring and broadening access to the profession through its apprenticeship schemes. It’s a good work in progress.

#8 Community of practice

Public relations is practical. Academic colleagues are enabling greater understanding in every area of practice. Practitioners challenged by the pace of innovation are reaching out to theory to help make sense of the changes. There’s a huge opportunity to learn from the body of knowledge that academic colleagues are investigating and apply it to our day jobs.

#9 Skills and professional development

Upgrading skills to work across all forms of media is an ongoing work in progress, much like our business itself. We’re moving from being generalists to having broad knowledge of our discipline and specialist knowledge in an area such as research, planning, strategy or content. The day you stop reading and learning is the day you face professional obsolescence.

#10 Purpose

Social media is collapsing hierarchies and eliminating and removing silos within an organisation. Every aspect of an organisation must be social. The twentieth-century notion of centralised communication command and control communication is dead, if indeed it ever existed. Practitioners are helping the leaders of progressive organisations to discover their social purpose.

This article was originally posted on the PRCA website.

Working towards a community of practice in public relations

Working towards a community of practice in public relations

Drunken domains

Drunken domains