January is typically considered a time of renewal — a fresh beginning that carries with it renewed hopes. For some, however, this year also brings renewed anxieties about what the next 12 months will bring. Although we cannot truly know what lies ahead for us as a profession or a Society, I for one believe that 2010 is going to be a year of change.
I recognize the challenges the economy has posed for our profession. Clearly, revenues in our business dipped in 2009, but the news was not all bad.
Generally speaking, public relations performed better than other communications disciplines in 2009. Even though only a quarter of public relations firms polled in StevensGouldPincus’ annual survey posted revenue increases last year, the survey showed a healthy client-retention rate of nearly 94 percent and staff retention levels at 88 percent.
Looking ahead, nearly two-thirds of firms polled by StevensGouldPincus say they expect higher revenues in 2010, while only 14 percent anticipate the slump will continue. Projections by Veronis Suhler Stevenson, which call for a 6.6 percent aggregated growth rate between 2008 and 2013, also support this anticipated upward trend.
Current industry trends also bode well for the public relations field. First is the fundamental shift in the media environment. With traditional media declining and social media becoming a part of many companies’ daily communications approach, public relations professionals are uniquely able to create tailored communications strategies and content to reach specialized audiences and to monitor the landscape for stakeholder sentiment.
In this environment, the ability to engage consumers and develop two-way relationships — one of public relations’ signature strengths — will continue to grow in importance for organizations of all types. Consumers also are seeking greater involvement with the brands they favor, giving public relations professionals still more opportunities with direct-to-consumer messaging, user-generated content and mobile messaging.
Beyond how companies disseminate news and information, there’s the issue of what they hear and bring back to the organization for analysis and action. As Paul Holmes, editor of The Holmes Report, insightfully notes, “There was a time when a dissatisfied customer would go home and tell half a dozen of his closest friends; today he can blog, Tweet or post a YouTube video and tell thousands, many of whom will go on to tell thousands more, creating a community of critics capable of seriously damaging the brand.”
The good news is that public relations professionals are well suited to mitigating and/or repairing damage to institutional reputations. Not only are we the “eyes and ears” of our clients and organizations, but also the corporate “conscience.” The public relations function also is more involved in addressing the complete spectrum of CEO needs and concerns than any other marketing communications discipline.
These new dynamics, I think, amplify the potential that the early financial projections suggest. But, to realize that promise, we have to be ready to capitalize on our opportunities.
It’s our mission, should we choose to take it. And, it’s our ticket to an exciting year and promising future. Add in a dash of your optimism and passion, and I think 2010 can be year that brings positive changes to our profession, including the bottom line.
How do you feel about your prospects for 2010?
Gary McCormick, APR, is 2010 Chair and CEO for PRSA.