After an unpredictable year of COVID, organizations value the role of PR more than ever

by | Jul 8, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

Organizations value communications more than ever.

That’s according to the 2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey—by Ned’s Job of the Week, an email newsletter and Sword and the Script Media, a PR and marketing consultancy for B2B technology.

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

When asked about specific functions, respondents overwhelmingly said employee communications (93 percent) grew in importance compared to pre-pandemic times. More than half (64 percent) 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, who is a long-time PR, Marketing and Social Media Consultant at Words For Hire, LLC and the President of Solo PR Pro.

Shonali Burke, President & CEO, 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 Smart, Michelle Garrett, Stacey Miller, and Shel Holtz.

2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey

Among the other key findings from the survey were the following:

Too many priorities

The top three challenges facing communications and PR professionals are 1) “too many priorities” (40 percent), “cutting through the noise” (37 percent), and working with “leaders that don’t understand communications” (36 percent). This is a change from the top challenges in prior year surveys where budget and ROI were the top challenge. More than half (54 percent) 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 percent) 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 percent) say their organization is investing more in media relations, while most (60 percent) 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 percent) that has “never” purchased a paid piece.

2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey.

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 percent) say brands should take a stand on political issues “often” or “always” while 43 percent say brands should take a stand on social issues “often” or “always.” In both cases, another 40 percent said “sometimes” depending on the issue, context and relevancy to the organization.

DE&I programs

Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said their organization has a formal DE&I program in place. Many of these have been in place for years—just 13 percent 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 percent) of respondents say they measure their comms efforts “always” or “often.” Another 30 percent measure their efforts some of the time, while 10 percent 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 percent) 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 percent), CMO (20 percent) or chief communications officer (22 percent) currently. Many would prefer to be independent of marketing and report to either the CEO or CCO.

Frank Strong
Frank Strong is the founder and president of Sword and the Script Media, LLC, a veteran-ownedB2B tech PR andmarketing consultancy based in Atlanta. Find him on Twitter @Frank_Strong.