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Industry reacts to the latest State of PR report

By Martin Flegg.

For over a decade the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has conducted industry-wide research exploring issues and challenges facing the public relations profession.

The latest State of the Profession 2022 research report was published last week. Based on the responses of over 800 PR professionals, the data in the latest report uncovers the trends and reveals insights into a wide range of topics including where practitioners work, what they do, how much they earn, and much more.

Since the report was published, many in the industry have been reacting to the findings and key themes. Here are a few of the thoughts and reactions that caught my eye.

A growing industry, standing still

Many picked up on the finding that there has, apparently, been very little change in what PR practitioners spend most of their time doing over the last four years. Copywriting and editing are still the most commonly undertaken activity.

For Amanda Coleman this was indicative of a profession ‘sat on the fence’ and unclear of its direction.

“We are on the fence at the minute. On one side there is the chance to grow the reputation of PR and communication, secure that seat as a special advisor at the top table, shape the development of business and organisations. While on the other is the move back into the traditional world of producing materials and developing things requested by those in the business.”

Stephen Waddington thought that this ‘core narrative’ in the report, about what PR professionals spent most of their time doing, really needed challenging.

“It’s like reporting that numeracy is the most important skill for an accountant, or that analysis is a critical skill for a lawyer. Both are true but they understate the expertise of each profession.

The list of activities most commonly undertaken by public relations practitioners include: copywriting and editing (82%); campaign management (69%); strategic planning (68%); media relations (64%); and community and stakeholder relations (54%).

Notwithstanding commonly reported skill gaps such as analytics, data and evaluation, the list conflates the skills and experience of a management and tactical function.”

Going further, Stephen suggested that we needed to look beyond the headline, and consider what skills and competences are required at different levels in the profession, referencing the Global Alliance Capability Framework as a benchmark.

“As professionals we need to separate the competency requirements of entry level and mid-level or senior practitioners to assess to true state of the profession.”

Stuart Bruce took a similar tack in his analysis of the activities findings in the report.

“A lot of people are expressing the usual concern about the apparent conflict between being a ‘strategic’ discipline and ‘copywriting and editing’ being the most common activity.

If that was the whole story then I’d be concerned, but it isn’t. The problem is that the list of ‘activities’ isn’t a list of activities. It is actually a bizarre hotchpotch of specialist public relations disciplines and tactics or ‘stuff we do’. It’s impossible to relate it in any meaningful way to more structured approaches such as the Global Alliance’s Global Capabilities Framework.”

Stuart questioned if copywriting and editing should even appear in the list. After all isn’t writing, fundamentally, one of the things that we all do?

“The copywriting and editing one is the one that makes the least sense to even include. Writing and editing is a task that is part of all the specialist disciplines listed, so it would be more surprising (or even alarming!) if it didn’t top the list. It’s like asking an accountant if one of their activities is calculating numbers, or a doctor diagnosing patients.”

The ‘great movement’

The results in the report suggest a considerable amount of movement within the public relations industry. Practitioners appear to be more likely to have moved jobs in the past six months than the six months preceding, with ambition rather than redundancy being the common impetus for movement. This movement looks set to continue, with a third of practitioners saying they are likely to look for a new job in the next sixth months and two thirds of practitioners confident they would get a new job if they tried.

Stephen Waddington picked up on this and added some numbers to demonstrate the scale of the movement, at least, in the UK.

“LinkedIn data reported by Wadds Inc. showed 87,000 practitioners working in public relations in the UK in December 2021. Today that number is 99,000.

If these shifts are reflected across the profession, it will represent a movement of 34,600 people.”

Stephen also exposed the ‘elephant in the room’, and one of the likely brakes on this new found confidence in our ability to move jobs at will.

“There is clearly huge confidence in the employment market however it is likely that the economy will act as a brake.”

Stuart Bruce also commented on another industry shortcoming related to recruitment. The apparent skills shortage in PR, and suggested what we should be doing about it.

“Given that 27% of respondents see labour/skills shortage as being one of the main challenges it’s shocking that training ranks so low on the list of what organisations are doing to fill vacancies. Just 14% are either increasing training for their existing workforces or are prepared to offer training to less qualified results. The PR profession must be prepared to invest in the future and can’t simply expect to ‘steal’ skills from other employers by recruiting ‘oven ready chickens’.”

On LinkedIn, Gemma Petman wondered what the causes were for the shortage of candidates with the required skills and experience. Suggesting that this is an issue needing more research.

LinkedIn Post Emma Petman

“Is there an issue with the quality of training? Do courses meet current needs? The environment continues to change at a pace, is learning keeping up?

 Are roles too broad, requiring candidates to be skilled in an unrealistic number of areas?

I don’t imagine there’s any one single cause but given the impact on outcomes and the risk of overwork/burnout for those holding the fort, this feels like a looming crisis.”

Working hours and mental health

Perhaps the most immediate impact of the struggle to recruit is the pressure it puts on existing employees. Over half of PR practitioners say they are working more hours than they are paid with increased workloads. As a consequence, for the second year running, the biggest challenge facing the profession is identified as the mental health of practitioners.

Dan Holden (for All Things IC) brought a personal, and internal communications, perspective to this finding and gave some good advice.

“Many comms friends I’ve spoken to have struggled to keep up during the pandemic with the everchanging Government rules and advice that then has a ripple effect on the way of working for organisations.

We’ve spent a large amount of our time [during the pandemic] helping colleagues by being a trusted source of knowledge and information, including wellbeing topics. We need to also listen to this advice ourselves. We can’t run on empty!”

Stuart Bruce asked us to look beyond the headlines about continuing poor mental health in the PR profession. Were we really any different to other professions, that have also been under pressure during the pandemic?

“Common sense tells us that the economic and social stress of the pandemic will have a negative impact on mental health, but that’s likely to be true of nurses, doctors, teachers, refuse collectors, social workers, bus drivers and just about any job you can think of.

What we really need to know is if and how PR is different and therefore do we need to do something different to tackle it?”

Stuart went further to ask if, actually, fake news was our biggest challenge.

“Fake news and disinformation entered the top five last year and is now in second place. I think this really means it’s in first place if mental health is actually a generic national issue.”

The missing challenges

Other commentators, such as Andrew Bruce Smith on Twitter, picked up on the theme of understated or missing challenges for the profession.

 

Twitter post relating to State of PR report

And, Amanda Coleman wondered why crisis communication seemed to have dropped down our agenda.

“It was surprising for me to see that crisis and issues management had dropped from the top five PR activities this year. We must ensure there is no complacency that develops from moving through the pandemic.”

Final words

Overall, this years report focuses on how the PR industry is adapting to life beyond the pandemic and what this has meant to those working in the profession.

For Stephen Waddington, his conclusions about the current state of the PR profession and our immediate future were in his opening remarks.

“The public relations profession is capitalising on its new found status following the COVID-19 pandemic but it must take a more strategic view of its capabilities and work a lot harder to address inequalities.”

And, with this in mind, the last word goes to Amanda Coleman.

“Once again with the report, it is not what is included but what happens once it has been published.”

 

Download the full CIPR State of the PR profession 2022 report. The main themes this year include:

  • The ‘great movement’
  • A growing industry, standing still
  • Working hours and mental health
  • Gender pay
  • The agency and consultancy boom
  • Public sector woes

Read the full blogs by the industry practitioners mentioned in this summary:

Stephen Waddington – Competence, growing pains, and talent turmoil highlighted by CIPR report

Amanda Coleman – PR at a crossroads

Stuart Bruce – What does the CIPR’s State of the Profession really tell us?

Dan Holden for AllthingsIC – 2022 State of the Public Relations Profession

See more industry and practitioner commentary on Twitter #StateofPR and LinkedIn #Stateof PR

 

Martin Flegg is Interim Digital Content Editor for Influence Online

 

Image by playb on iStock

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