Current State of the PR Industry (Annenberg Study)

This is a guest post by Burghardt Tenderich, Associate Director, Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center, at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Do you want to know what corporate PR departments really want from their agencies, and how important agency relationships are in the eyes of chief communicators? So did we, and have now published a comprehensive set of findings on the state of the public relations industry. Our research team recently surveyed 620 senior communicators and compiled results of the seventh biennial Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP VII) study, intended to provide practitioners with useful information to better manage the communication functions in their organizations.

InvestigatorSome of the findings indicate a shift in corporate-agency relationships. As an example, agency-of-record (AOR) relationships are vanishing. In 2002, more than 50 percent of public companies reported an AOR relationship. This number decreased continuously and now has shrunk to just over 15 percent. At the same time, the number of agencies individual corporations engage with continues to increase. This may mean more agencies are getting the opportunity to pursue more clients, many of which previously had AOR relationships. It may also be attributed to demand for specialized and/or regionally focused agency services, or, it could also be the result of increased competition and bidding for individual projects.

GAP VII also offers insight into why and how companies engage with agencies. Corporate respondents listed “additional arms and legs” as the primary reason. However, they also said that they retain agencies for purposes such as providing a unique perspective, offering market insight and a strategic point of view.

A deeper look into the motivations for corporate use of agencies reveals two clusters of PR departments: those that primarily use agencies for tactical purposes, and those that engage strategically. The data show a significant relationship between strategic agency use and higher scores on variables indicating success (e.g. the PR department’s recommendations taken seriously by management, and a positive view on how highly CEOs regards the PR function). Conversely, low strategic use and high tactical use are associated with the weakest scores on multiple success indicators.

The message to corporate clients: if you engage your agencies strategically, you’re more likely to be successful.

Other topics covered by GAP VII include areas of responsibility, budgets, trends in social media, reporting lines, integration and PR’s contributions to business goals.

Key findings include a steep rise in budgets allocated measurement and evaluation, more mainstream use of social media, and expanded responsibility for customer relations and internal communication. Marketing/product PR is on the decline.

Additionally, the study found that PR/Communication (finally!) has “a seat at the table.” In nearly 60 percent of responding companies, PR/Communication reported directly to the C-Suite (chairman, CEO, COO, etc.), reflecting today’s increasingly transparent, communication-intensive environment.

The GAP VII study report is available for free download at the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relation Center’s (SCPRC) web site.  The same location hosts the GAP VII Insight Base, a comprehensive online catalogue of detailed findings, where PR practitioners can gain insight into specific topics of interest to their organization.

Posted on: April 19, 2012 at 9:00 am By Todd Defren
3 Responses to “Current State of the PR Industry (Annenberg Study)”


  • vanesa says:

    History of Public Relations
    During the early 20th century the United States went through a period of expansion and the Industrial Revolution began. With the increase of manufacturing and of industry the beginning stages of the Public Relations were taking place. Over 100 years later it seems that public relations has evolved and changed for the better. In reality the same basic principles of persuasion, propaganda and profit remain the same for public relations professionals.
    Robber Barons and the Muckrakers are terms only used in history books but they have evolved into something completely different yet they have remained the same. Upton Sinclair and Ida Tarbell exposed the conditions and practices of some of the most important industries and companies. In recent years society has abandoned traditional forms of print media such as books and newspapers for a more current technology. Filmmakers are now the voice of a new generation. Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) and other documentary filmmakers are also exposing major corporations. It might seem difficult to compare Super-Size Me to the Jungle but they share certain commonalities. It doesn’t matter how the message was conveyed, both pieces of work were created for the same purpose of informing and trying to influence the public about an issue going on. Whether people agree with them or not they were a force of change because they started a conversation. During the early 20th century public relations professionals had to take into account the opinion of the consumer, the public, government, the company or organization and its publics. Today the opinion of consumers is equally or even more important with increase of faster technology that enables instant communication and information. Sometimes it takes the reaction of many for corporations to take into consideration the well-being and interests of their consumers.
    Edward Bernays focused on the “big idea” for a campaign. Bernays helped promote bacon by having doctors endorse a hardy breakfast or the Lucky Strike cigarettes that curved cravings for sweets, which helped women lose weight. Today there are still similar campaigns that focus on a “big idea” or make outrageous statements. Orbit claims that 4 out of 5 dentists recommend their chewing gum because it removes stains and whitens teeth. Whether the statement is true or not is irrelevant to the corporation, unless their consumers and publics start asking questions. Sketchers was sued by former customers who realized that their sketcher’s toning shoe’s did not help them lose weight as they had originally claimed. Corporations are interested in profits and in order to achieve that objective they sell products or services that prey on the consumer’s desires and weaknesses. Public relations experts help create campaigns and come up with different ways of using all of their research for the very purpose of making profits while still keeping their client’s image intact.
    Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee and George Creel are responsible for shaping the field of public relations and politics. The same tactics used by President Theodore Roosevelt have continued to be used by modern day presidents who understand the importance of media relations. While out hunting Roosevelt spared the life of a young cub in the presence of reporters, the story helps depict the image of a compassionate and fair man and it was created by a single calculated act. A similar yet less dramatic comparison would be Obama trying to bowl while in the presence of reporters and news media during the presidential campaign in 2008. Obama’s public relations team understood the importance of being perceived as an average “Joe”. Public relations professionals are aware of public image and perception, they need to build the publics trust.
    Public image and support for a president is of extreme importance, especially if trying to get support for their political agenda. George Creel was asked by President Woodrow Wilson to create a campaign that would unite the country and to help gain support for World War 1. There are still similar tactics being used before the beginning of the Iraq War. President Bush calling “French” fries, “freedom” fries is a pubic relation’s tactic. It might not be as effective and it didn’t create the reaction he expected but it was an attempt. Some will argue that propaganda was used by the Bush administration to push the Iraq war in 2003. American’s were bombarded with images and rhetoric about terrorism after the events of 9/11. The falling twin towers became a ubiquities image in America and weapons of mass destruction were a constant topic of conversation. The Bush administration was focused on having a war and used persuasive speeches that touched on the values and morals of the American people. The public’s fear of another terrorist attack also was used by the Bush administration to their advantage.
    Today public relations professionals use their expertise to manipulate the public. Information is important but full disclosure will never happen. The purpose of a public relations professional is to help get a message across that is favorable to their client and to control an image or the publics opinion. Public relations experts don’t lack morality their profession is complicated and trying to manage the interest of everyone is difficult to do. Not all corporations are bad but it is important to be aware that their purpose is to make money.

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