Survey: Communicators more valued than ever before

Following a tumultuous year, 80% of PR and comms professionals say organizations place a greater value on their work. Now it’s time to secure your seat at the decision-making table.

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Organizations value communications more than ever.

That’s according to the 2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey conducted by Ned’s Job of the Week and Sword and the Script Media.

The fourth annual survey polled 300 communications professionals and found in the wake of a tumultuous year, 80% “agree” or “strongly agree” organizations now place a greater value on communications.

When asked about specific functions, respondents overwhelmingly said employee communications (93%) grew in importance compared to pre-pandemic times. More than half (64%) of respondents anticipate their organizations will adopt a hybrid work environment.

“This is a pivotal moment for PR and communications professionals to get out of the media relations spin cycle and demonstrate the breadth and depth of our value,” wrote Karen Swim, a PR, marketing and social media consultant at Words For Hire, LLC and the president of Solo PR Pro.

Shonali Burke, President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc., agreed.

“It seems to me that the opportunity for PR pros is to really demonstrate their value across the length and breadth of an organization, not just as publicists,” she noted. “They also have an opportunity to advocate for employee and work environment best practices, if they use data to demonstrate equal or more impactful outcomes during the pandemic and help build a more trustworthy and productive company culture.”

Karen and Shonali were part of a group of six contributors to the survey and report. The contributors are all familiar faces in PR and communications circles: Michael SmartMichelle GarrettStacey Miller, and Shel Holtz.

Here are other key findings from the survey:

  • Too many priorities. The top three challenges facing communications and PR professionals are “too many priorities” (40%), “cutting through the noise” (37%), and working with “leaders who don’t understand communications” (36%). This is a change from the top challenges in prior year surveys where budget and ROI were top barriers to success. More than half (54%) of respondents think more work will be shipped to outside agencies to help relieve the pressure.
  • The media relations struggle. Sixty percent of respondents say media relations is harder or much harder compared to last year, while about one-third (35%) say it’s about the same. The multi-year trendline on this question suggests it’s not getting any easier. About one in three (29%) say their organization is investing more in media relations, while most (60%) will put about the same investment into this effort.
  • Credibility of sponsored content. Sixty-two percent say sponsored content, like posts from the Forbes Communications Council, can be credible some of the time, depending on the source. Forty-one percent of communicators say their organization has at least dabbled in sponsored content – about the same number (40%) that has “never” purchased a paid piece.

  • Brands taking stands on political or social issues. There’s greater support among communicators for brands to take a stand on social issues versus political issues. About one in five (21%) say brands should take a stand on political issues “often” or “always” while 43% say brands should take a stand on social issues “often” or “always.” In both cases, another 40% said “sometimes” depending on the issue, context and relevancy to the organization.
  • DE&I programs. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said their organization has a formal DE&I program in place. Many of these have been in place for years – just 13% of respondents said their organization created a formal DE&I program in response to the social unrest in 2020.
  • Making an effort to measure is half the battle. More than half (60%) of respondents say they measure their comms efforts “always” or often.” Another 30% measure their efforts some of the time, while 10% rarely or never make any effort to measure results. Although the question was worded differently in prior year surveys, this looks like an improvement.
  • Communications technology. Respondents give both themselves and the industry remarkably good grades on technical skills. Nearly three-quarters (74%) say the tech skills of comms pros across the industry are somewhere between “good” and “excellent,” however, one in five lack technical chops.
  • Reporting structure for communicators. Most respondents report to either the CEO (21%), CMO (20%) or chief communications officer (22%) currently. Many would prefer to be independent of marketing and report to either the CEO or CCO.

Over to you, comms pros. Has the pandemic affected how your worth or value is perceived? What trends will rise in importance, and which will fade? Time will tell, but fate favors the prepared.

Frank Strong is founder and president of Sword and the Script Media. Get more JOTW data at Sword and the Script.

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