Spring is in the air, and in our industry at least, you can really feel the warming trend continue. We are seeing very healthy demand for public relations services across geographies and practice areas, thanks to improving consumer and business confidence in most markets around the world. And, when looking at the broader context of the marketing services industry, we are seeing a flow of more dollars toward the public relations discipline.
Our heritage as storytellers and ability to engage constituencies and build communities across multiple platforms are critical skill sets given the rise of social media. This expertise has been a key driver in generating incremental revenue opportunities to firms in the public relations industry. In a Q1 survey of Council member CFOs, more than 80% of respondents reported that Q1 2011 results would be at or above forecast. Looking ahead, we continue to see growth opportunities in digital and social media as well as increased demand for corporate, crisis and public affairs services. Nearly 80% of respondents to our survey projected that overall revenue would be higher for 2011 than in 2010, with almost 50% forecasting higher profits. Organic growth remains a critical mainstay of the public relations business, with 60% of survey respondents reporting increases in existing client spending levels.
As budgets continue to shift, public relations firms are seeing more opportunities to exert more influence on corporate and marketing strategy. A “jump-ball” mentality seems to exist right now with clients, with more major marketers going to all their agencies in search of the best ideas. In addition, we are also benefiting from the increased focus of many corporate executives on reputation-related issues. In today’s 24/7 communications environment, public relations practitioners are well-placed to monitor brand and reputation conversations among a wide range of stakeholders and advise clients in real-time on how to effectively manage their advocates and detractors.
Hiring the best talent is often cited as one of the greatest challenges firms are facing. With this in mind, as our industry rises to new heights, the Council as a key initiative has convened a task force on diversity and inclusion. Central to this effort is the Council’s commitment to share with member firms best practices in recruiting and retaining diverse talent.
facilitated by the FutureWork Institute designed to help senior firm leaders promote diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Another key initiative to drive our business forward relates to how we interact with procurement professionals. Given the expanding influence of these executives in the agency selection and management process, we’ve written a white paper, in collaboration with several key client procurement officers and agency CFOs, to outline how best to approach the procurement-agency relationship. Look for that paper in the next few weeks.
The Council also is making headway on a third important front – looking at the prospect of creating some common standards for measurement. Along with the greater share of marketing budgets going to public relations agencies comes pressure to provide greater accountability for the value firms provide. We think there is an opportunity to bring even more revenue to member firms if we can build on the measurement standards some other industry organizations have created as a framework. Over the past few months we’ve convened a panel of leading agency research and measurement experts to chart a path forward.
Workgroups on engagement and ROI have also been formed. This year, the engagement group will create a metrics guidebook for agencies to provide perspective on weaving together earned, owned, shared and paid media for engaging clients’ stakeholders. The ROI task force will develop standard definitions and identify approaches for measuring public relations ROI. We’ll partner with other industry groups and business school leaders to publish and promote a guide to ROI, including best practices, case studies and sample methodologies.
These are exciting times for our industry and for the Council. That said, given all of the uncertainty in the world and the potential impact it can have on business, we often have a tendency to temper our optimism with a mix of caution. But we should feel good about the trends we are seeing in marketing and communications and the positive impact they are having on public relations firms. I hope you’ll join me in promoting our industry and participating in industry-wide collaborations around issues that affect our business. I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing the dialogue.