Business Maturity and Sharper Focus Changes the Face of Public Relations

The PR industry is no stranger to redundancy. Ubiquitous utterances about getting a seat at the proverbial table make many professionals sound like broken records, and there have been enough holy grails - measurement, crisis management and prevention, CSR - to chase into eternity. Now that public relations is increasing its momentum in the business sector thanks in part to news like Proctor & Gamble's widely-reported findings (see PR News, February 13, 2006), questions are less focused on getting people's attention; now it's a matter of what to do once you have it.

Council of Public Relations Firms President Kathy Cripps is one of many PR leaders looking to the future as the industry matures. The best news? Adulthood never looked so good.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for how the business is growing," she told PR News in an interview at her New York office. "One of the things the G.A.P. study found is the prominence and importance of the discipline within companies. It is very important with what's happening with the integration of brands."

Cripps is referring to the annual "Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices" study the Council coordinates in conjunction with the University of Southern California's Strategic PR Center. The most recent findings (from 2004) cited a growth in agency PR budgets by an average of 3%, as well as a PR/gross revenue ratio among Fortune 500 respondents of $643/$1 million.

At the time of their release, these findings, among others, pointed to a year of stabilization for public relations, and that momentum continued to build through 2005 and early 2006. But that doesn't mean there aren't a number of barriers yet to be overcome; Cripps acknowledges education, diversity and integration remain critical issues for the PR industry.

"One of the main challenges is continuing to find good, strong talent," she says. "In the last few years, there's been a tremendous growth in the number of students majoring in public relations. But are they being exposed to the right classes? And how can we expose MBA students who are future clients to public relations and the value of PR?"

Some PR programs have already broached one potential answer - that is, working in conjunction with graduate programs on more precise and applicable education, as well as recruiting out of these programs more rigorously. And as for recruiting, especially when it comes to diverse potential employees, the Council has its hand in projects such as an annual PR industry job fair conducted with Washington, D.C.'s Howard University. Designed to educate Howard's predominantly African American student population on the career potentials of PR, it also provides a golden opportunity to achieve the long-sought-after goal of a diverse PR workforce.

Building a better PR industry may begin on the ground level with education and recruitment, but PR execs at the other end of the spectrum continue to face challenges when it comes to reputation management and branding in an age of integration and consolidation. Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline recently announced plans to cope with its damaged reputation by enlisting its entire sales force - all 8,000 of them - as "public relations ambassadors." It's nontraditional plans of attack like this that illustrate the transformation of PR from a highly reactive to a largely proactive industry.

"On the agency and corporate sides, you need to understand how PR fits into your organization," Cripps says. "It's becoming more important being we're seeing how it fits into a business objective from a strategic standpoint, from a marketing communications standpoint. It's really being integrated into what's happening in an organization."

Interviews with other association leaders can be found at the PR News article archives at

Contact: Kathy Cripps, 877.773.4767,