Public relations: modernisation is a work in progress

Public relations: modernisation is a work in progress

A poll of my network for a recent speaking opportunity exposes some interesting attitudes to the public relations profession.


I spoke at a CIPR Best Practice event in Cambridge last month. The session explored how public relations is changing. Here’s the deck.

Ahead of the event I polled my network to explore the attitude of practitioners to the different challenges that the public relations profession is facing.

It was a quick and dirty survey with a modest response rate. Nonetheless the results shine a light on how the public relations profession is modernising.

I asked practitioners to describe how focussed they were on a scale of one to ten across a series of 20 topics.

112 people responded: 40% in-house; 38% agency; and 22% independent practitioner.

Responses to each of the 20 topics either followed a normative Gaussian distribution, or were polarised between indifference and absolute concern.


Public relations practice is shifting from media relations to influencer relations, owned media, community management and social business. It’s a story that I’ve frequently told that is borne out by data. Practice is distributed across all areas.

Media relations –  media relations is declining as an area of public relations practice, although it remains a core activity with half of respondents ranking it as important.

Influencer relations – media relations is giving way to influencer relations with practitioners working across earned and paid activity. Half of respondents ranked it as important.

Owned media – apps and web sites enable any organisation to create its own media and become a publisher. Owned media and community management are the strongest areas of practice according to respondents.

Community management – social media enables organisations to engage in conversations. This is firmly the future of public relations. 60% of respondents ranked is as important.


Public relations as a management discipline is a common mantra of modern public relations. Planning, creativity and measurement lies at the heart of campaigns. Paid amplification remains a works in progress.

Always-on or real time campaigns – the public relations profession is shifting to real time work. Half of respondents ranked it as important.

Planning: social media listening, data and insight – the use of data within public relations campaigns driven by a burgeoning third party tool market is a growing area of practice for 56% of respondents.

Paid: amplification, promotion of media – 46% of respondents indicated paid as unimportant however the relatively high levels of adoption of influencer and community management work would suggest otherwise.

Creativity – in the shift to new forms of media it’s easy to forget the importance of creativity as a means of public relations engagement. 76% of respondents cited it as important.

Measurement and demonstrating value – 73% of respondents cited measurement and demonstrating return on investment as important. A lack of robust measurement practices are ceasing to be an issue, at least for my network.


Writing is a core public relations skill. Much of our profession remains based on the press release. There’s strong evidence that the internet is forcing us to adopt to new forms of content such as images and video, but not yet augmented or virtual reality.

Written word – skills surveys repeatedly cited writing as one of the most important skills in public relations. This exercise is no different with 94% of respondents citing is as important.

Images – a picture tells a 1000 words. We’re shifting to new forms of content but not as quickly as you might expect. 73% ranks it as important.

Video – the adoption of video in practice follows images. Half of respondents rank it as important. If your agency doesn’t offer images or video you’re missing out.

Augmented or virtual reality – there’s no evidence that these forms of content are making inroads into public relations. Therein lies an opportunity.


The use of new tools and techniques has the potential to transform public relations but this was the area of most polarised response. It’s almost as if the profession is splitting into two. My own agency Ketchum is firmly among the organisations helping to define the future.

Automation – 51.7% of respondents rank automation as unimportant, while less than a fifth rate it as important.

Artificial intelligence – the story of artificial intelligence is even starker. 75.8% rank is as unimportant and 10.98% rank it as important.

Tools and modernising workflow – more than half of respondents are adopting new technology into their workflow. More than half rated tools and modernising workflow as important.

Professional issues

Progress is slow in diversity and mental wellbeing but strong in professional development and professional status. The bias of my personal network may be a work in the latter two areas.

Diversity: ethnicity, gender and social-economic – there was a broad spectrum of responses around diversity, indicating that it’s an issue that the profession is slowly coming to terms with and addressing.

Mental wellbeing – mental health, like diversity, is a work in progress. These issues are likely to take a generation to address.

Competency and professional development – almost three-quarters of respondents ranked professional development as important.

Professional status – there’s evidence that our profession is growing up. More than half of respondents ranked professional status as important.

#FuturePRoof: Leaders speak out on value of public relations 

#FuturePRoof: Leaders speak out on value of public relations 

Mary Meeker on the rise of the internet for marketing and public relations

Mary Meeker on the rise of the internet for marketing and public relations