ICCO World PR Report – PR leaders optimistic, despite global challenges

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok

The ICCO World PR Report 2022-23 reveals that PR leaders are optimistic about the future, despite global challenges of recession, the invasion of Ukraine, climate change and post-pandemic challenges. PR leaders from every region of the world expect increased profitability over the next 12 months.

UPDATE: There is now an AI generated video summary at the end of this article.

What’s more interesting is the issues that they think are growing in importance. The results show that more companies are paying closer attention to corporate purpose (7.2 up from 6.9) and CEOs are taking corporate reputation more seriously. ESG is in the top two investment areas for every region of the world, with the most important social issue this year being sustainability and environment.

The most optimistic regions were North America (8.2), Latin America (7.9) and Asia Pacific (7.8), while in the UK, there was markedly less confidence, with an average score of 6.6 out of 10. Europe scored a little higher at 6.9. Another good reason to continue looking at working with clients in Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East. If only I could crack South America. It’s the only region where I haven’t done any significant work… or indeed any work!

Retaining talent is critical

As in 2021, retaining talent is the number one challenge. The issue is especially pronounced in the APAC and Africa regions. This is followed by motivating younger staff and developing junior staff. From my perspective this is one of the main reasons I’m seeing such an increase in demand to provide bespoke in-house communications and PR training courses. PR leaders know that one way to retain staff is to provide high quality continuous professional development for their team, as it benefits both the business and the individual.

What PR skills are most needed?

‘Strategic consulting’ and ‘purpose and ESG’ easily top the list of skills that will be required by PR professionals around the world over the next decade. As usual with these type of surveys it’s hard to separate the public relations and communication areas of practice, from the skills needed to do them.

The top three – strategic consulting, purpose and ESG, and crisis counsel – are all areas of practice. Measurement, evaluation and analytics, creativity and influencer communications are all skills needed to do the first three effectively.

Measurement is still PR’s Achilles’ heel

Depressingly, but not surprisingly, measurement remains weak, even if it has improved. Engagement metrics are the most requested client measurement method, ahead of media clippings. This vulnerability also explains why the biggest area of growth for Purposeful Relations is developing bespoke communication measurement and evaluation frameworks and playbooks for clients. Demand for help with PR measurement is so great that we’re now taking bookings for assignments to start next year.

The ICCO World PR Report shows a clear difference between client objectives and the metrics PR agencies are using. The top three client objectives are improving corporate reputation, increasing sales and brand purpose. Despite this agencies provide crude activity and output related metrics such as quantity of media coverage and sentiment analysis, and even the dreaded AVEs (advertising value equivalents).

I’ve been doing public relations since 1989 and way back when I started it was known that AVEs were a crock of ****. When AMEC published the first Barcelona Principles in 2010, it was shocking that there was even a need to waste one to say AVEs are rubbish. But this ICCO World PR Report shows why it was necessary.

UK PR professionals can take some small satisfaction in being the least likely to use AVEs, despite the fact that nearly half (48%) still use them. I know that often PR professionals know AVEs are wrong, but use them because clients, people in marketing or members of the board are asking for them. But that’s not a reason to continue giving in and providing them with fraudulent metrics. They ask for them because they don’t understand and don’t know what else to ask for. If you can provide them with something much better, they won’t need to ask. If you need help to rid yourself of AVEs then get in touch.

Impact of digital technology on PR and communications

The section on digital technology is interesting and is an area where Purposeful Relations is doing a deep dive into what it all means and what in-house communications leaders and PR agency leaders should be doing to keep up and stay ahead.

As you’d expect measurement and analytics is seen as the area most impacted by technology, but alarmingly many PR actioners don’t appear to understand the impact that CommTech will have on practice areas like strategic consulting, media relations, creativity and crisis communications. This complacency is dangerous as there are rapid developments happening in all these areas.

One alarming statistic is quite how far behind the rest of the world is compared to the USA. The Middle East appears to be the worst, but my personal experience is that it’s not that straightforward. Last week I ran a PR Futurist masterclass in Dubai on the future of PR and communications. One of the questions from a delegate was how did Dubai and the Middle East compare to the rest of the world. It was a hard one to answer as what I often see is extremes. A company or organisation might be doing something truly amazing and putting in a huge amount of investment into one particular technology (e.g. the metaverse), while ignoring lots of other productive and effective technology.

Key areas of investment

There is a spark of light when it comes to measurement as it is identified by most respondents (24%) as a key area of investment in 2023. It’s closely followed by research, insight and planning (21%). In reality the two can’t be separated as improving measurement of results and business impact is dependent on research, insight and planning.

“We have seen an elevation in the importance of the PR and communications role. Our members are assuming increasingly important responsibilities in advising, guiding, often stewarding, and executing complex programmes for their organisations.  But to meet the challenges ahead, we must continue upskilling, embracing the latest tech and analytics, and measuring our work in a sophisticated way”.

Francis Ingham, chief executive, ICCO

The importance of PR professionals is being increasingly recognised, as organisations and leaders face greater scrutiny from a more discerning public. To meet this high demand and growing range of services, it’s crucial for agencies to invest time and energy into creating an environment that fosters both professional and personal growth. Otherwise, we’re at risk of watching premier talent exit our industry.”

Grzegorz Szczepanski, president, ICCO

The full report is packed with lots of other useful data including a regional breakdown with data and analysis from seven geographies: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America, and the UK. You can download the full ICCO World PR Report from the ICCO website.

This video was created using AI technology which chose highlights from the article and combined them with stock video and images from the article. There were minor manual edits.