Those of us who work in public relations—who care about its future and wish to see it grow in stature and value—have said for years that public relations should be taken more seriously in the C-suite. That PR is a must-have component of any CEO’s key management team. And perhaps most important, that public relations should be on par with advertising and marketing as a go-to service for companies’ ongoing brand-building campaigns.
After much talk and years of hope, public relations has finally reached an important milestone. According to the 2011-15 Communications Industry Forecast, from the private investment firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson, public relations and word-of-mouth marketing will be the fastest-growing marketing-related segments in the four-year period ending in 2015.
VSS reports that in 2010 PR and word-of-mouth marketing (WoMM) spending in the United States grew by 12.8 percent, to $5.7 billion, with spending predicted to reach $10.96 billion by 2015.
VSS isn’t the only group singing PR’s praises.
Miles Nadal, chairman and CEO of advertising holding firm MDC Partners, wrote recently that PR has firmly taken its place among advertising and marketing as a vital component for achieving today’s business objectives. In an op-ed titled, “Move Over Advertising—Let’s Talk PR,” Nadal writes that “PR leaders are now just as [essential] as CMOs, and the art of PR is more vital to an organization’s survival than ever before.”
He goes on to say that the shift of client spending from traditional advertising and marketing services to PR and WoMM campaigns is a trend he “support[s] wholeheartedly” and does not see abating any time soon.
I couldn’t agree more, and I certainly appreciate Mr. Nadal’s sentiment and see it as a harbinger of further support from the advertising industry. After all, it was only last year that WPP Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell told a group of business executives that “editorial publicity has resumed its rightful place as one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, marketing medium today.”
Looking at the VSS report more closely, the firm says that PR is helping to generate strong growth in the U.S. communications industry. In 2011, spending on communications services has grown 4.1 percent, to $1.120 trillion. The industry is forecast to expand at a 5.5 percent compound annual growth rate in the 2010-15 period, outpacing nominal GDP growth by 90 basis points.
More relevant to public relations, VSS reports, “Direct marketing will remain the largest marketing segment in 2011, and public relations and word-of-mouth marketing will be the fastest-growing, as the role of PR expands and becomes a more prominent component of integrated marketing campaigns and the increasing popularity of social media fuels WoMM growth.”
All of this data bodes well for the public relations industry, but what is driving the growth? Not surprising, it is social media—specifically, Facebook and Twitter. VSS says that while spending on PR and marketing services in the business-to-business sector is slowing, it is growing rapidly in the business-to-consumer sector, as social media continues to command businesses’ keen attention. Further accelerating the growth of PR and WoMM, according to VSS, is increased demand for online consumer promotions, along with an expansion of the role of PR.
For those of us working in public relations, this report is further confirmation of a bright and prosperous profession. As I told the PRSA Northeast District Conference last week, the future of public relations is strong. Its sustained prosperity rests on the tens of thousands of innovative communicators who are leading this latest charge in its relevance and value.
As client objectives and demands continue to shift, and the world becomes a more connected and digitized environment, we are confident the public relations industry will continue to see expanded growth and appreciation for its services.