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Upcoming PR trends to watch

“The biggest change to PR will be the industry’s ability to shape entire strategies” – Ian McCawley, MD Acuity PR

The public relations industry is ever-changing. Within five years, it will undergo extensive changes in response to new technologies, additional communications channels, increased demand for content and greater use of data, PR agency and corporate leaders report.

Practically all corporate and agency PR executives expect at least some change, according to the Global Communications Report , a worldwide survey of over 1,000 PR executives.

Almost all client-side respondents (97 percent) anticipate at least some change in the structure of their departments over the next five years, 30 percent predict extreme or complete change, and most of the rest predict moderate change. Most PR agency executives (98 percent) expect at least some change, and 47 percent expect an extreme or complete change, according to the survey by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations conducted in concert with the Holmes Report.

Predicted changes in PR

PR agency executives believe that over the next five years revenue from earned media placements will decline but remain a dominant stream. Owned, shared and even paid media will become increasingly important.

Only 27 percent of agency leaders believe by the year 2020 the term “public relations” will clearly and adequately describe their work.

As PR has assumed new roles, finding the right talent has become its greatest challenge, PR agency and corporate executives say, especially because PR is not good at recruiting talent from outside its ranks.

“Overall, we are sensing a continued optimism about the direction the industry is headed, which is good news for people entering the field,” says Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations. “Questions remain about the industry’s ability to attract the right talent, adapt to new technologies and increase the level of investment required to capitalize on these opportunities.”

Paul Holmes, CEO of The Holmes Report, says: “The pace of change in public relations has never been faster than it is today, but at the same time, it will likely never be this slow again. Both agencies and their clients recognize that change is occurring, but it is not clear that they appreciate the extent, when it comes to finding non-traditional talent or developing non-traditional services, particularly outside of earned media channels.”

Despite major changes, corporate PR budgets are not increasing to accommodate greater complexity and heightened expectations. Client-side budgets increased an average of just over 2.5 percent last year, and respondents expect budgets to increase about 2.5 percent a year over the next five years.

Top growth-drivers

Despite the significant transformations, or perhaps because of them, PR agency executives are optimistic about the industry’s growth. Content creation, social media and traditional activities such as brand reputation and measurement and evaluation will be the top drivers of growth.

Previous surveys have revealed that PR experts believe measurement will drive the future of the industry. For instance, the World Media Intelligence & Insights study by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) found that 86 percent of PR firms now recognize the importance of measurement and analytics, compared with 72 percent a year ago.

The PR industry is experiencing substantial changes in response to new technology, expansion of new communication channels and greater use of data analytics.

The transformation will be so extensive that the term “public relations” may no longer adequately describe the profession. Yet, industry execs hope PR can prosper in the new environment. The main challenge will be recruiting talent with data analytics and strategic planning acumen.

William Comcowich is the chief marketing officer of CyberAlert, a media monitoring and measurement service. A version of this article originally appeared on the CyberAlert blog.