Survey: PR moving in-house at many organizations

As corporate entities seek to maximize content control and minimize spending, they’re ditching outside guidance. Agencies with niche specializations appear likeliest to survive the trend.

PR survey results

Tightening budgets and greater control over content are key reasons why organizations are bringing PR efforts in-house.

The trend, documented in the 2019 JOTW Communications Survey (conducted in partnership with Ned Lundquist), mirrors patterns seen in marketing for the last several years, as CMOs have slashed agencies in favor of in-house teams.

Some 47 percent of respondents said they’ve observed more PR work being taken in-house, according to this year’s survey of 223 communications and PR professionals. Sixty-eight percent of respondents report holding in-house communication roles, and 90 percent have 10 years or more experience in the industry.

The PR community has heard inklings of in-housing anecdotally; Richard Edelman recently cited it as a cause following disappointing earnings for the year ending 2018.

According to the survey, the top five reasons for hiring an agency are:

1. execution (64 percent)
2. niche or vertical expertise (58 percent)
3. strategic projects (38 percent)
4. transactional or short-term help (38 percent)
5. planning and strategy (37 percent)

Understanding why agencies get fired is just as important as why they get hired. The survey identified the top five reasons for firing an agency as follows:

1. cost (81 percent)
2. poor client service (47 percent)
3. inability to measure ROI (41 percent)
4. too much “hand-holding” (32 percent)
5. taking more work in-house (30 percent)

The first and fifth reason seem closely related. A similar trend has unfolded over a decade in the legal market between in-house counsel and outside law firms. PR—and its siblings in marketing and advertising—are entering a similar trend.

The practice of media relations grows more difficult.

Two-thirds (68 percent) of PR pros say media relations is getting harder or much harder. This is up 17 percent from last year, when half (51 percent) said media relations was getting harder. The caveat is that in this year’s survey, possible answers were listed on a five-point scale, whereas last year it was three.

Here are a few of the related comments:

  • “Journalists are increasingly strident toward, instead of partnering with, PR professionals. It’s virtually impossible to have an actual conversation with a writer.”
  • “Journalists are no longer objective, they are much more subjective and if you do not fall within their lane or their bias, they are not interested and you are left by the wayside. The days of objectivity are gone and the days of combative, aggressive, argumentative ‘in your face’ journalism has taken its place.”
  • “It’s harder to know who is media and who isn’t. And there used to be rules of engagement—behavior, fairness. Now, it’s say whatever you want about whomever you want.”

The decline of professionalism cuts both ways.

Last summer, Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist Steven Pearlstein lamented about the “sorry state of corporate media relations” after a major company declined to produce an executive for an interview for what he described as an easy story.

More communicators report to the CEO than to marketing.

More respondents (38 percent) say the comms function reports to the chief executive, versus 35 percent who say they report to a marketing executive. This was followed by the chief operating officer (COO) (9 percent), strategy (7 percent) and human resources (5 percent).

A few respondents wrote in to say they report to the chief communications officer (CCO), who mostly likely reports to the CEO. So, the percentage of PR people reporting to the CEO, at least indirectly, could be a few points higher.

Still, no single reporting structure earned a true majority of the votes, demonstrating the range of ways organizations integrate communications and PR into their respective structures.

Frank Strong is founder of Sword and the Script Media. A version of this post first appeared on Sword and the Script, where you can see the full survey results.

Topics: PR

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