The future of public relations in Europe – European Communication Monitor 2023

The latest European Communication Monitor 2023 identifies some of the key trends and issues that public relations and corporate affairs professionals need to be aware of. The ECM is particularly useful as it provides longitudinal data so we can see how issues have developed over the years.

The report finds that digital transformation is increasingly important for both PR agencies and in-house communications teams. This transformation isn’t just about channels, such as the switch from traditional media to social media, but is about fundamental changes to professional practice impacting workflows and processes.

The rise of social media and decline of print media is a trend seen from 2007 to 2020 and the ECM says that social media is now by far the most important channel for stakeholders. It’s a trend that I’m relieved to see I spotted early. I was using social media in the form of blogs in 2003, and even earlier on email lists and forums. It’s probably no coincidence that 2007 was when I started one of the UK’s first digital and social media PR consultancies.

Today the transformation of the public relations and communications profession is being driven even more rapidly by developments in AI, data and analytics. The challenge for PR agencies and communications teams is that digital transformation needs new competencies, processes and structures. Simply investing in new technology and expecting there to be a magical transformation or business as usual just isn’t going to happen. The biggest challenge we help clients with is enabling people to embrace and adopt the new technology in ways that benefits them and the business, rather than seeing it as a threat or a chore.

This requires the leadership team to understand and embrace the technology so they can adapt their approach to provide leadership on the new competencies and culture. It’s why we work privately with senior PR and communications leaders to provide coaching and mentoring.

The European Communications Monitor 2023 provides even more evidence and justification for why PR agencies must modernise to future proof themselves. Some of the key areas covered are:

  • Leverage the potential of advanced tech and data use
  • Develop rare competencies and new roles for professionals
  • Reach and impact audiences in a hyperconnected world
  • Lead and motivate extraordinary communication teams
  • Build relationships in times of misinformation and distrust

Practical next steps for the future of public relations

Practically the areas that PR and communications leaders need to be focusing on are: strategy, ethics and policy; learning and development; and communication technology.

Strategy, ethics and policy

The biggest challenge around data and AI for PR and communications professionals isn’t how they will use it to improve practice or performance, but the reputational and relationship implications on an organisational wide level. There is a huge reputational risk to allowing individuals, teams or operational departments to start experimenting with and implementing AI without any guard rails to ensure it is being done ethically and won’t inadvertently damage the organisation. It’s particularly dangerous to think of AI as being about technology and delegating its implementation to IT.

This means thinking about how AI impacts on organisational and communication strategy. You need to be clear about what you want to achieve by using AI. Part of this is ensuring you have robust policies in place that covers all of the ethical issues.

It’s not enough just to create policies as if they are to succeed, they need to be understood and embraced by all colleagues. This means ongoing training to ensure knowledge is embedded and constantly up to date.

Learning and development

Simply introducing new technology won’t provide the transformation that is needed. Regular training is needed to build digital, data and technology skills across the whole team. Too often it is siloed, and some colleagues become those who ‘do’ digital or social media, rather than it being embraced throughout the whole team.

PR agencies and communications teams can also recruit to bring in new specialised skills such as data analytics. It’s too early to recruit a Chief AI Officer as there aren’t enough people with the required expertise and there are some ridiculous salaries being advertised for AI-related roles.

Communications technology for digital transformation

The third element is communication technology – the digital tools, platforms and services. There is such a plethora of tools and platforms available that it’s impossible for most PR practitioners to assess them all and choose the most appropriate ones. Once tools are in place it’s important to make sure they are being used effectively. We often find teams only use part of a tool’s capability, or in some cases companies are paying for an extra tool when they already have one that can do it. Tools also need to be integrated to improve workflow and productivity to remove mundane tasks enabling colleagues to do the work they enjoy such as creativity and strategy.

European Communication Monitor 2023

You can download the full European Communication Monitor 2023 report from the ECM website, along with previous reports. It’s useful to look at its findings alongside the results of Purposeful Relations’ Global CommTech Report 2023 which highlighted many of the same issues.

ECM is a collaborative research project led by Ralph Tench (Leeds Beckett University, UK), Alexander Buhmann (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway), Ansgar Zerfass (Leipzig University, Germany), Dejan Verčič (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), and Ángeles Moreno (University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain).

Your next steps in AI

Our team is available to help you take your next steps in AI for PR and communications. We can help with reviewing strategy, developing policies and governance, identifying workflow tasks and technology, training and culture change. Get in touch to see how Purposeful Relations can help you and your team. Or why not book one of my keynote briefings to help you and your team better understand the potential opportunities and risks of AI.