The ICCO World PR Report 2020 provides a mixed picture of the global PR industry. It reveals an industry where 61% of PR firms are expecting a drop in fee income and 62% have had campaigns cancelled. It isn’t being replaced with new business as 40% report fewer pitches and 35% say they have fewer retainers.
The gloom continues with 38% reporting payment delays, 35% with hiring freezes, 35% making pay cuts although only 15% have had to make redundancies. Not surprisingly hardest hit is consumer brand work with sectors such as retail, hospitality, automotive, food and drink, entertainment, and luxury goods particularly hard hit.
Things are looking better in the sectors I specialise in as corporate communications, executive counsel, public affairs, digital and social and crisis counsel all seeing a boost as well as some good news on communication measurement and evaluation. The most resilient or buoyant sectors are financial and professional services, technology and healthcare.
Agencies in Asia Pacific are most optimistic about potential growth in 2021, which might be a harbinger of hope for Europe and the USA as Asia is mainly head on its response to the pandemic.
However, the ICCO World PR Report, is not all doom and gloom. The findings on growth and opportunity are a source of optimism with respondents believing CEOs will take corporate reputation more seriously (6.6) and companies are paying more attention to corporate purpose 6.3).
The regional breakdowns show it is in the UK where CEOs are perceived to take corporate reputation the most seriously (7.1) with Western Europe (6.9) and Asia Pacific (6.8) also showing respectable numbers with Eastern Europe (5.7) and Latin America (5.6) trailing.
Respondents are also reporting that companies are paying more attention to corporate purpose which is highest in North America (7.1) and lowest in Eastern Europe (5.5) with the UK in a respectable second place at 6.9.
The findings on expected areas of investment in 2021 are particularly relevant to me as in previous years this has often given me a good indication of where my own company’s growth will come from. This year none of the top three are major ones for me, however the next three are all areas where I do specialise. Research, insight and planning, particularly to offer senior counsel, is what I do most of for both consultancy and training.
It’s disappointing that professional development is only cited by 15% as an expected area of investment. The ICCO World PR Report also looks at future talent relevant skill sets which is more good news for my business as data, measurement and analytics heads the list (37%) with research, insight and planning (29%), crisis counsel (26%) and evaluation of communications impact (23%) all featuring prominently.
Measurement and evaluation
The section on communication measurement and evaluation is a mix of good news and bad news. It finds that globally 46% of respondents are still using AVEs (advertising value equivalents) which is incredibly depressing in 2020 given that when I started working in public relations in 1989 it was already know by competent professionals that AVEs are an idiotic metric.
In the UK it shows that AVEs are used by just 10% of respondents. Personally, I’m cynical about it being that low and think it more reflects the type of people like to complete the ICCO World PR Report survey. The nature of surveys like this is they are more likely to be completed by smarter, more switched, more professional practitioners. The fact that 75% claim to use AMEC measurement tools and an astonishing 94% of UK respondents confirms this belief. I’m fairly sure if I picked up the phone to 100 random in-house PR people and PR agencies that I would even find that three quarters had heard of AMEC let alone use its tools.
Even more depressing is to look at why AVEs are used with 74% satubg because “it is expected” by clients. Where is the professionalism? If a ‘client’ goes to a doctor expecting to be given a specific drug then the doctor won’t give them the drug if it’s the wrong one. It’s not the clients fault they don’t know which drug they need as they aren’t the medical expert. For PR professionals to use the excuse that AVEs were asked for is a dereliction of professionalism. The job is to be a consultant and deliver work that helps deliver on business or organisational objectives. That doesn’t mean doing what a client wants but persuading a client to do what it needs to.
One of the least surprising findings is that LinkedIn is the most used B2B social media platform. It’s disappointing that the report doesn’t provide any specific data on digital trends related to corporate affairs (reputation, crisis etc) given that elsewhere it cites these as the most resilient sectors with the most opportunity for growth.
The two graphs with predictions for most relevant technologies and technology have greatest impact are also of great interest to me given the PRtech is where I’m getting most interest from clients for both consultancy and training. Not surprisingly the top technologies cited include: data science; predictive AI; SEO; measurement and analytics; research, insight and planning; marketing automation and CRM.
Given my previous comments about the importance of doing what a client needs rather than what a client wants it is interesting to see what client requests actually are. I’m not too concerned that the biggest client request is still media clippings (29%) as there is nothing wrong with this being a big part of what PR is about, as long as it isn’t all that it is about.
What is more concerning is that connecting communications activity to business results is so low at just 20%. It is not too surprising that just 5% of clients are requesting website analytics, but the percentage of PR professionals able to use website analytics and connect them to communications activity impacting on business results should be closer to 100%. I’m willing to bet it is nothing like that.
The most important objective for clients is not surprisingly related to product marketing and sales (44%) however both corporate reputation (37%) and issues and crisis management (6%) are also significant. This is important when we link it back to measurement and evaluation as while there have been huge advances by AMEC in measuring campaigns especially related to marketing and sales objectives there is much more work needs to be done around developing similar robust methodology for corporate reputation and crisis communication. Those are two areas, along with public policy and public affairs, where I’m most keen to work with clients on developing innovative new ideas and processes.
On purpose and social issues the primary focus is still on sustainability and climate (56%), followed by diversity and social inclusion (46%).
Francis Ingham’s analysis
ICCO chief executive Francis Ingham says that while 2020 has been beset with problems it has: “also
created one positive for our industry: it has shown the power and the purpose of PR. It has proved the centrality of our advice to governments, organisations, and individuals. And in my view, it has also proved quite how strong are the foundations on which our industry stands.
“CEOs are paying more attention than ever to their corporate reputation. 2020 has turned a vicious
-sometimes blinding, sometimes illuminating- spotlight on how organisations have acted. Has it been with nuance and empathy? Has it been with the callous chasing of every last penny, and every last cent? Have companies been authentic? Or have they been fake? Have CEOs led? Or have CEOs hidden?”
“There is also a clear shift away from the tactical and towards the strategic, while the value of crisis counsel has never been more apparent. And, of course, the prominence and salience of digital skill has never been higher. Every region says that they are handling clients’ digital needs well, and are delivering an ever-broader array of services. Content creation and influencer marketing are in the ascendancy. Our industry has never had as many places at that fabled top table.”
The ICCO World PR Report is compiled from responses from ICCO’s 41 associations and 3,000 agency heads, operating in 70 countries.