The future looks bright for PR: survey

Two new studies paint a positive picture for the PR profession, but also one of significant change

The vast majority (95%) of Canadian PR people have a positive outlook on the profession in terms of growth and development, according to a new study by the Communications + Public Relations Foundation (CPRF).

CPRF funded two new research studies on public relations in Canada: the “GAP VIII” report conducted in partnership with Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University, and “Do They Have What it Takes” conducted by McMaster University.

Both studies show “a positive picture for the PR profession, but also one of significant change,” said Bruce MacLellan, chair of CPRF. “The change is coming, of course, in the managing of social media for organizations.”

The Gap VIII study found that PR and communications professionals are considered the dominant players in the strategic use of social media organizations, well ahead of marketing and sales, IT, human resources and customer relations.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said the PR/communications department is responsible for social media participation and social media monitoring, while 78% said they’re responsible for social media measurement and evaluation.

“The good news is that PR people are deeply involved in the strategies and managing of social media,” said MacLellan. “The challenge is that it’s an unfolding area with lots of learning and evolving to happen. The profession is in a major transition phase in its 100-year history and the future looks bright, but not necessarily clear.”

The study also found that PR is seen as valuable in most organizations. Seventy-nine percent of respondents agree that PR/communications is taken seriously by senior management, and 75% agree that PR/communications actively participates in long-term, organization-wide strategic planning. But just 52% agreed that CEO/top executives believe that PR/communications contributes to their organization’s financial success.

“I think there’s still room for progress and that PR people need to be called upon in the early stages of every business decision,” said MacLellan. “So it’s encouraging that 79% of the respondents feel they’re listened to by the C-suite, but there’s still room for improvement.”

The McMaster study, meanwhile, focused on the views of entry-level PR professionals and senior business executives regarding the skills and knowledge needed by young people to succeed in the PR industry.

The study found that junior and entry-level PR practitioners are reasonably well-educated with 29% holding a university undergraduate degree and 22% holding a university graduate degree in public relations and communications.

Writing is still the number-one desired competency in public relations/management communications, followed by strategy, leadership and competence in information and communication technologies.

But MacLellan said PR schools need to examine their curriculums and determine if they’ve kept up with the times. For PR firms looking to hire, “there’s a much greater interest in business understanding and a much greater interest in the use of data and being able to quickly assess data… So as the PR profession evolves, the PR schools need to question themselves about being relevant.”

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