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Public relations and management decisions
advisory self-reported influence on senior management in Europe was 5.13 as compared to 5.67 in the US, and self-reported executive influence was 4.82 as compared to 5.33 in the US.
Statistical analysis revealed that the overall influence of practitioners in 2009 in Europe depended on the roles practitioners enact (strategic facilitators being more influential than others), their geographic location (practitioners in North being more influential than their colleagues in South), hierarchical position in an organization (being higher in hierarchy helped) and years of experience (more experienced are more influential).
This results clearly support theoretical findings and results of previous research on how can practitioners gain power in their organizations, e.g. in the Excellence project (Dozier, L.
Grunig & J. Grunig, 1995; Grunig, 1992; J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 2008; J. Grunig, L. Grunig & Dozier, 2006; L. Grunig, J. Grunig & Dozier, 2002), a hypothesis on correlation between levels of economic development and the importance of public relations practices and profession (North and West of Europe being economically more developed that South and East; cf. Verčič & Grunig, 2000; Verčič, Razpet, Dekleva, & Šlenc, 2000).
Impact of the recession and media crisis
The recent economic crisis affected public relations profession in Europe: 47 per cent of respondents reported budgetary cuts (in Southern Europe, and in private companies and corporations much higher than in governmental and non-profit organizations) and 22 per cent also reductions in staff. Yet, 80 per cent of respondents were optimistic for the year to come.
Three quarters of respondents saw themselves as capable of adapting to new media and journalism realities, with 41.8 per cent believing that the mass media surviving the crisis will be more influential than ever and 18.7 believing that being reported in the media is becoming less important.
It seems that the majority of practitioners saw the current economic crisis as being a temporary phenomenon that is to pass this year; if this is to be so and if there are really going to be only negligent consequences for the profession as a result of it is something to be seen empirically this year and n years to come..
Development of disciplines and communication channels
For the first time in 2009, corporate communication overtook marketing/brand communication (being on the top spot in 2007 and 2008) as the most important public relations function or discipline. These were followed by crisis communication on the third spot, internal communication and change management in the fourth, and public affairs/lobbying in the fifth.
Respondents expressed their conviction that corporate communication will be still the most important public relations function in 2012, while marketing/brand communication will fall further to the third place, being replaced on the second by internal communication and change management. Crisis communication will leave the top five table and corporate social responsibility and sustainability will enter the table on the fourth position. Public affairs/lobbying will remain where it was.
Internal communication/change management and social responsibility/sustainability were expected to be the fastest growing practices within public relation in Europe at least until 2012.
As this result was consistent with the findings in the previous two ECMs, notwithstanding short period of observation we can tentatively describe these to be trends. Also expected to grow were 863 personal coaching of management and other employees on communication skills and competencies.
Among communication channels, social media are on the rise. Respondents reported print media press relations still being in the lead, but expected them to lose that position to online communication by 2012. On the third place communicators saw face-to-face communication and they expect it to remain there until 2012.
These results support a finding from the EBOK phase of research in public relations in Europe that education and reflection are becoming core characteristics of the profession o the Old Continent.
Interactive communication: overall trends and online communities
Nearly all respondents (85 per cent) were members of social networks, with professionally preferring LinkedIn and privately Facebook. But only 32.8 per cent of respondent evaluated online communities (social networks) as being important for contemporary public relations practice. But they expect over one hundred per cent increase of the importance in one year. By the end of 2010 over two thirds of respondents predicted that social networks will become important for public relations practice (the same for online videos). Weblogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, microblogs (Twitter) wikis and virtual worlds are lagging well behind.
There was a gap between private behavior of public relations practitioners (being socially networked) and the way they saw this as relevant for the current practice – but they expected that to change very soon.
The most important issues as seen by respondents in 2009 were: linking business strategy and communication (by 47.3 per cent), coping with the digital evolution and the social web (45.0 per cent), dealing with sustainable development and social responsibility (38.0 per cent), building and maintaining trust (34.6 per cent), and dealing with the demand of new transparency and active audiences (30.5 per cent).
Evaluation and communication performance
Practitioners in Europe reported opportunism in measurement and evaluation: 84 per cent measure their impact on media, which can be done easily based on wide offering of clipping and media monitoring services. But only one third of respondents track effects of their work on their
employer organization. Situation is not much better on monitoring and evaluation of input costs:
only 38.3 per cent of respondents see that as a necessary measure.
Based on a framework presented in Zerfass (2010), this is a picture of public relations evaluation and measurement
work as reported in the 2009 ECM:
864 Picture 2: How practitioners in Europe measure public relations performance Internal communication trends In internal communication, the major challenges were linking internal communication to corporate strategies (68.8 per cent), supporting organizational change and restructuring (66.1 per cent), and dealing with information overload (54.7 per cent). It is interesting to note what were seen as important future actions in internal communication: training managers to act as communicators is with 74.3 per cent at the top, followed by spreading authentic content instead of polished messages with 65.0 per cent and using online communities for internal dialogue with
53.8 per cent.
Salary and qualification needs
Public relations is clearly a thriving practice in Europe today. The European Communication Monitor survey registers its evolution through the past three years (into the fourth this year). It gives an impressive transnational overview of the state of the profession, although imprecise. One needs to bear in mind that the survey is done electronically, in English language and on a purposive sample. It is therefore an elite survey that gives a qualified insight into where the profession in a given moment is and where the respondents think it is evolving.
However, it is interesting to note that its findings are consistent with previous research and theoretical understanding of the field: for public relations to be of use for organizations, it needs to be involved in both strategizing and enactment of organizationally relevant activities, relations with both internal and external publics are gaining on importance and that communication competence is becoming equally important for organizational leaders as other core organization (business) competencies are.
This ECM research enterprise is even more impressive if we bear in mind that there is no trans-European public relations practitioner association and that the only association of the national organizations had recently been dissolved. The closest to an individual members panEuropean association is at the moment the European Association of Communication Directors (http://www.eacd-online.eu), although from its statutes follows that its aim is to represent only persons employed as communication directors, press spokespeople or individuals in similar functions in multinationals with a seat in one of the member states of the European Union, in a European institution or intergovernmental body or a European association or in a public body in one of the member states involved in cross-border activities – its aim is thus far from being representative of the whole public relations profession or even the whole European continent. A genuine trans-European association is the European Public Relations Education and Research Association, primarily focused in university education and academic research (http://www.euprera.org). Students of public relations in Europe have their own association that appears and disappears under different names as generations replace one another. International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) has its IABC Europe/Middle East regional board and events (http://europe.iabc.com) and that is more or less it. Public relations professional organizations thrive as national public relations associations, with the British Chartered Institute of Public Relations having over 9,500 individual members (http://www.cipr.co.uk/) and the Swedish Public Relations Association having over 4,650 members (http://www.sverigesinformationsforening.se/in-english.aspx) being the two largest among them.
But as the European Union grows and develops not only horizontally (in number of its members) but also vertically (in depth), so will public relations profession in Europe need to find a new forum that will replace the dissolved CERP as a representative body for the profession in Europe.
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