The Evolution of Public Relations

May 9, 2017

By Bill Duggan


The role of public relations is evolving. The ANA partnered with the USC Center for Public Relations at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to understand current client-side marketer perceptions of public relations. Here's what we learned:

  • Digital is driving public relations. The most important trends to the future of public relations are all digitally focused — social listening, digital storytelling, and real-time marketing. It is important to note that these top three trends are interlinked. Digital is improving the quality of public relations, as it allows immediate outbound communication and inbound feedback.
  • The public relations function is converging with marketing. The borders between public relations and marketing are breaking down. These are no longer separate disciplines, as public relations facilitates marketing. Public relations will further evolve over the next five years by becoming even more closely aligned with marketing.
  • Internal staffing and spending to support public relations are on the rise. Over the next five years 62 percent of respondents expect internal staffing to increase and 75 percent expect spending to increase.
  • It's all about results! Public relations can demonstrate its value most effectively by demonstrating how its programs achieve measurable business outcomes and by improving measurement of results. Fundamental to measurement is having clear goals in place at the start.

What does this all mean? Walls are breaking down between marketing and public relations. That is due to the digital transformation and rise of social media. Public relations is becoming less of a specialty as it becomes more closely aligned with marketing. The next generation of talent entering the job market interested in public relations needs a broader skill set to recognize that marketing and public relations are increasingly commingling. As the ANA has seen elsewhere, marketers place a huge emphasis on accountability and ROI. Public relations is no exception, and practitioners must be cognizant of the need for programs to be measurable.

Findings from this survey of ANA members have also been integrated into a broader report from USC Annenberg titled Global Communications Report (GCR17), a comprehensive survey of more than 800 public relations executives from around the world.

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