Trends & Attitudes
Global Optimism Dips Despite PR Industry Growth
By Arun Sudhaman
Public relations agency leaders from around the world are slightly less optimistic about the future of the industry than they were 12 months ago, with slightly fewer respondents agreeing that CEOs are taking corporate reputation more seriously, that companies understand the need to balance the interests of shareholders with those of other stakeholders, and that marketers are spending more on public relations relative to other disciplines.
The study polled more than 400 PR agency leaders across the world, along with ICCO's local member associations in 28 countries, which together represent 1,700 firms. It marks the second phase of the World PR Report, which launched with the ranking of the world's 250 largest public relations firms.
The research also found a widening gap between agency principals in Western Europe, where overall optimism declined sharply for the second consecutive year, and other developed markets. Elsewhere, the Report finds that economic conditions, talent and tech are the top concerns of the global PR industry.
Globally, optimism levels were down from 7.7 (on a scale of one to 10) last year to 7.5 this year. But in Western Europe, there was a decline from 7.15 last year (and 7.6 the year before) to just 6.7. That’s a stark contrast to US, for example, where optimism increased slightly from 8.06 to 8.08; the UK, where optimism rebounded from a low of 6.7 to a more robust 7.3; or Latin America, where optimism is highest at 8.17.
There were equally significant regional differences on some of the other questions in the survey. For example, when asked whether they agreed that corporate CEOs were taking reputation more seriously, North Americans agreed strongly (8.19 on a scale of one to 10), as did those in Australia (8.54) and Latin America (8.17).
But in Western Europe (7.2) and Asia (7.1), there was less confidence that CEOs were committed to corporate reputation, and in some emerging markets there are even greater concerns: Eastern Europe (6.6), Africa (6.2), and the Middle East (6.1).
“Overall, PR agency principals in Western Europe have more in common with their peers in emerging markets than they do with those in other developed markets such as the US and the UK,” says Paul Holmes, editor of The Holmes Report.
So when agency leaders were asked whether companies were taking corporate responsibility more seriously, there was a significant gap between North America (7.36) and Western Europe (6.46). And when we asked whether “marketers in this market are spending more money on public relations relative to other marketing disciplines,” agency leaders Western Europe (5.36) saw considerably less reason for optimism than in North America (6.25).
One possible reason is that firms in the Anglo-Saxon markets are competing more successfully for new revenue streams.
Asked whether clients were willing to turn to PR firms for non-traditional services, there was broad agreement in North America (7.57), the UK (7.55), and Australia (7.45), compared to Western Europe (6.87), Asia (6.43) or the Middle East and Africa (6.33)—although the highest level of optimism came in Latin America (7.92).
Asked whether PR agencies were successfully addressing clients’ digital needs, there were similar differences between North America (7.32) and to a less extent the UK (6.78) on the one hand, and on the other Western Europe (6.1) and Asia (5.8).
“What is not clear from the survey is whether firms in Western Europe and Asia are not developing their digital capabilities quickly enough to meet client needs, or whether clients in those regions simply don’t think of PR for their digital needs,” says Holmes. “Either way, the industry is going to need to convince clients that it has the necessary expertise, or it is going to lose market share to other disciplines.”
Perhaps the only area where North American firms are less optimistic than their counterparts in other regions is on the question of talent. The principals of North American agencies were significantly less likely to agree that they could find a supply of “intelligent, well-educated talent” (6.22) than their peers in the UK (5.93), Western Europe (6.52)—although the supply of talent remains of greatest concern to firms in Asia (5.05).