Thought Leadership

Forecast 2026: 3 Takeaways for the Next 3 Years of the PR Profession


What will the PR profession look like between now and the year 2026?

Lacking a time machine that would let us jump into the future, my company surveyed hundreds of PR practitioners about where the profession is heading in the next three years. Organizations big and small were represented, as were PR specializations ranging from public administration and retail to finance and food service. Here’s the breakdown: 54% of respondents work at PR agencies, 24% work for corporate PR departments and 22% work as independent PR practitioners.

Here are three takeaways from the survey.

The promise and peril of artificial intelligence

Eight out of 10 public relations professionals surveyed said they were “likely” or “very likely” to use artificial intelligence (AI) technology in 2023. Artificial intelligence has become an omnipresent topic in boardrooms and management meetings across the country in recent months. There seem to be two camps regarding the subject: those who are concerned about AI’s effect on business and society; and those who are curious about how AI technology might spark innovation and efficiency.

Within the PR space, both perspectives are in play. My sense is that the PR profession, which needs to uphold high standards for brands’ communications tactics, will take a cautious approach to AI.

In the camp that’s concerned about the pitfalls of artificial intelligence, a central issue is the possibility of copyright infringement. Often overlooked in the frenzy to capitalize on artificial intelligence is that ChatGPT and similar AI tools — which can generate texts and images in response to human questions — scrape data from a massive variety of online sources, many of which are copyrighted. As a result, lawsuits are already being filed.

ChatGPT’s mining of online sources also means that the content it produces may be tainted with fake news or other inaccurate information. ChatGPT has also been shown to fabricate anonymous sources and quotes. The potential for AI to spread misinformation is another concern.

I predict that as AI generates large amounts of content, demand will increase for communicators who understand target audiences and can convey the context, nuance, accuracy and personal perspectives that ChatGPT cannot.

Budget priorities

When it comes to budget projections for the next three years, the PR profession is in glass-half-full mode. When asked about 2023 budgets, 53 percent of survey respondents said their budgets will increase somewhat this year, while 27% expect their budgets to increase significantly. Projecting to 2026, the numbers were virtually identical, suggesting long-term confidence.

Where do the survey respondents think these increasing budgets will be spent in 2023? Excluding staffing costs, the top-three results were social media tools, media databases and media placements. Also scoring well as budgetary allocations were content creation, media monitoring and paid media.

Organizations with 250 or more employees were more likely to select reporting, measurement and freelancers as their highest budgetary expenditures. Organizations that have international audiences were more likely to select media placements and freelancers as their top budgetary expenditures.

Looking ahead to 2026 the results are similar, but the highest growth in spending is foreseen in events and conferences, MAT releases (sponsored content) and influencers. Spending on media monitoring, content creation and media databases is expected to decrease.

The PR pros we surveyed had specific thoughts on how these tactics should be measured. Topping the list of measurement priorities for both 2023 and 2026 were social media engagement, media placements (according to outlet and audience size), website engagement and engagement with content (as measured by the time that users spend). At the bottom of both lists were measuring share of voice, sentiment and leads.

Cannabidiol (CBD) as an emerging market

According to 84% of the respondents, communicators said they were “likely” or “very likely” to work with cannabidiol (CBD) brands in the next three years. In fact, few questions in our survey revealed such a strong consensus.

Though an active ingredient in cannabis (marijuana), the compound cannabidiol is derived from the hemp plant, a cousin of marijuana. Legal and readily obtainable in most parts of the United States, CBD products do not cause a “high” when ingested but instead are touted for treating health ailments such as anxiety, insomnia, inflammation and chronic pain.

In the last few years, CBD has gone from being a curiosity to seeing mainstream use across all socioeconomic groups in the United States. Depending on the state, CBD products are available in malls, grocery stores and drugstores, including CVS and Walgreens. Many consumers buy CBD products online.

In our survey, only 6% of respondents said they were unlikely to work with CBD brands in the next three years. Independent PR practitioners, those with a national or international presence and those with 250 or more employees were more likely to foresee working with CBD brands in the next three years. This level of enthusiasm is a clear indicator of where the industry sees opportunity.

The global CBD market is estimated to reach $47 billion by 2028, according to Vantage Market Research. However, given current restrictions on promoting and advertising CBD products, it may take time before the PR profession works on large-scale CBD campaigns.

A broader sentiment to emerge from our survey is one of cautious optimism. With projections of increased budgets, be ready to innovate, try new things and adapt to change in an increasingly complex business environment.

To view the comprehensive survey results, visit the Brandpoint blog.

David Olson is senior vice president at Brandpoint, a content-first digital marketing agency that has partnered with the PR industry for the past 25 years.

[Illustration credit: alphaspirit]




About the author

David Olson


  • I found this article incredibly interesting and insightful. With popular trends such as AI, I found it interesting to see where the overall industry stood on the topic. Something that can help, but can also hurt us. I found it interesting to see that companies plan on increasing their budgets, but with a main focus on media placement and social media engagement. Although I was unaware of the curiosity surrounding the CBD market, I find it encouraging that companies are willing to take a risk for greater success. – Helen Carson Writer/Editor for Platform Magazine

  • Cannabis is the third take away?? Did disinformation emerge, and ethics and ensuring the public can make informed decisions with accurate information?

Leave a Comment