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#PRin2012: PR Industry Needs Leadership More Than Ever

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of 12 guest posts from industry executives predicting key trends that will impact the public relations industry in 2012. Hosted under the hashtag #PRin2012, the series began Dec. 19, 2011, with a compilation post previewing all 12 predictions.

The PR industry needs to grow up. It needs leadership.

That was Dr. Jon White’s brutal message speaking about the future of the PR industry on the publication of PR 2020, a research report produced for the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

“There is a concern that the PR industry could lose its position and become irrelevant by 2020,” said Dr. White, head of the CIPR’s R&D unit. “Equally, with the right leadership, it could become much larger, better understood, more respected and established as a management discipline.”

The issues currently being debated by the profession are almost exactly the same as those that occupied the industry a decade ago. The topics are familiar to both student and veteran: ethics, formal definitions, diversity, measurement and skills.

The PR industry may be adolescent in comparison to other professions but it is utterly depressing that it hasn’t resolved some of these big issues.

But there is another much bigger issue that could make the difference between success and failure for the industry. It needs to modernize as ad budgets continue to move online from print, media fragments, and digital techniques provide a platform for organizations to engage in participative relationships with their audiences.

We’ve been here before. The PR industry was slow to address the opportunity presented by online search. Many practitioners still haven’t.

That oversight has cost our industry dearly. Econsultancy estimated that in 2010 the search marketing industry was worth $5.8 billion in the U.K. and $16.6 billion in the U.S.

The debate about whether PR or search agencies should own search strategy has been well and truly won by the search industry.

But we cannot afford to let the same happen with the business of social media. If you are looking for a prediction, here’s one:

2012 will be the year when we stop talking about social media as a bolt-on channel and recognise it as fundamental to business; not just PR, but marketing, employee engagement, customer management and sales.

PR practitioners have the opportunity to become the management consultants of the 21st century. We need to claim our ground. The industry needs leadership.

Stephen Waddington (@wadds) is managing director of London-based Speed. He is the co-author of “Brand Anarchy: Managing Corporate Reputation,” due for publication by Bloomsbury in March 2012. Waddington sits on the Council of the CIPR, the Council of the Public Relations Consultants Association, and is a member of the CIPR Social Media Panel.

2 Comments

  • I could not agree more – if we haven’t already missed the boat.  For instance, when you look at who’s winning the PR category awards at Cannes, the majority are not PR firms.  Other disciplines already have planted a stake in the ground, and are winning at it.  One aspect that would greatly help PR professionals is better analytics surrounding social media ie metrics that analyze effect and not just noise.

  • This is not good enough. In 1995 I spoke to the CIPR annual conference to say that the web was going to be important for PR and that we should do something abut it. In 2000 I headed the industry Internet Commission with much about the same message. Five years later another book on the subject and now I want to be clear again. Social Media, yesterday’s big chance for PR, is being superseded by the internet in your pocket and the power of semantics.

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