10 insights for public relations from the 2016 European Communications Monitor

10 insights for public relations from the 2016 European Communications Monitor

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


Communications and public relations is a practice. Research should be practical rather than theoretical. It should help move the business forward.

I’ve long bemoaned the lack of interchange become theory and practice. The European Communication Monitor (ECM) is a rare example of excellence.

ECM is a longitudinal transnational survey in strategic communication produced by a multinational team of researchers. It is based on responses from 2,710 communication professionals.

The study was organised by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), supported by partner Prime Research.

The 140 page report is available as a free download (opens as a PDF). There’s also an excellent summary of ten talking points that reflect on the future of organisational communication.

Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with many of the themes cited. The CIPR and the Holmes Report have both published related analysis this year.

ECM tells the story of an industry slowly adapting to new forms of media and technology. Many of the themes are consistent from 2015.

Public relations has never been more valued by organisations but there’s room for significant improvement.

#1 Big data in strategic communications

72.3% of European communication professionals believe that big data will change their profession. But only 59.3% have given (close) attention to the debate and a minority has a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Just 21.2% of communication departments and agencies have implemented big data activities until now, leaving clear room for improvement.

#2 Automation in public relations and communication management

Three out of four respondents (75.0%) agree that communication activities should be aligned with external algorithms of search engines or social media platforms. Yet only 29.3% state that their communication departments or agencies have implemented such routines. Even fewer use the power of algorithms proactively for automatically adapting or creating content.

#3 Communication practices

Communicators employ a variety of tasks. In a typical week, they spend 36.2% of their productive time at work for operational communication, 27.8% for managing, 18.8% for reflective activities (alignment with internal goals and stakeholders) and 17.2% for coaching, training and enabling members of their organisation. They employ different approaches when supporting either senior managers or other staff.

#4 Strategic issues

Longitudinal data collected over a decade (2007 to 2016) indicate that digitisation, mediatisation and new demands from business and society have changed communication management dramatically. Responses from more than 21,000 practitioners across Europe show that the strategic alignment of communication and organisational goals is the most stable issue, mentioned as a challenge by more than 42% in every single year. Digitalisation and building trust are additional topics that keep many leaders awake at night.

#5 Communication channels and instruments

Face-to-face communication is the most relevant instrument today, taking the top position for the first time in 10 years of data. Social media was rated important by a minority between 2007 and 2011, today 76.2% favour such instruments, and 88.9% believe they will be important for addressing stakeholders in 2019. On the contrary, traditional media relations with print media is on the decline. 64.1% believe in its importance today, but this figure drops to 30.2% in 2019.

#6 Social media influencers

Third party endorsers shaping stakeholder attitudes through blogs, tweets and posts are important for a majority of organisations across Europe (58.4%). But only 42.9% use specific strategies to communicate with such social media influencers and an even smaller percentage (40.1%) have specific approaches to identify them.

#7 Strategic engagement

Engagement is a much-debated but often misunderstood concept in today’s societies and organisations. The study reveals that communication professionals conceptualise engagement mostly as a communication activity. Emotional drivers and institutionalised interactions might be overlooked.

#8 Skills, knowledge and competency development

Staff competencies are a key driver of organisational success. However, the level of social media competencies of communicators is rather mediocre. Only 65.2% report high capabilities for delivering messages via social media. A similar picture emerges in the field of management competencies. There is a clear gap between training offered by employers and the development needs of practitioners – technical skills and knowledge are underrated.

#9 Salaries

The annual income of communication professionals in Europe is quite diverse. Longitudinal data proves that the portion of communication heads and agency CEOs with a salary of more than €100,000 is relatively stable since 2009 (between 13,4 and 18.4%), and there is also a stable portion earning the same without being at the top of the hierarchy (up to 4.7%).

#10 Characteristics of excellent communication functions

Excellent communication departments are forerunners in big data, deal more intensively with social media influencers, and invest significantly more in personnel development. They employ practitioners with stronger management and social media skills, who spend less time on operational work, put more effort into strategic tasks and focus on supporting top management.

Public relations theory and practice toolkit

Public relations theory and practice toolkit

My Summer reading list

My Summer reading list