What is the Biggest Challenge For PR Pros in 2009?


We’re one quarter into 2009 and it seems like the only certainty we will have this year is uncertainty. Marketing has often been one of the first budgets trimmed in this tough economy and marketers have not been immune to pink slips and severance pay.

That said, the economy is not the only challenge we face, which made me wonder what you think is the biggest obstacle the PR industry needs to overcome this year to move forward.

It’s hard to pick the toughest opponent, but I think better measurement should be at the top of the list. When sharp pencils are aimed at budgets, the first things typically scaled back or cut out altogether are those which seem to provide the least return on investment. That’s why we need to find better ways to measure our efforts and quantify the value we bring to the marketing mix than simply relying on impressions and advertising value equivalencies. If CEOs and CMOs have a better understanding of PR’s value, then we’ll have a better chance at keeping – or increasing – our budgets and getting a seat at the infamous “table.”

What about you? Which of the challenges below do you think should receive top attention this year? If you select “other,” please share what your “other” is in the comments.

*Image by Damien du Toit.

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21 responses to “What is the Biggest Challenge For PR Pros in 2009?

  1. Pingback: Topics about Economy » Archive » What is the Biggest Challenge For PR Pros in 2009?

  2. I chose “other”. I think the biggest challenge will be keeping up with changing social media technology. The minute you think you have a handle on something these days, it becomes “old news” and something else is hot. PR pros who don’t find it easy to learn new systems and technologies will find it difficult going forward.

  3. I chose measurement. As a PR professional much of the networking, outreach and investigation into new channels is not an exact science. This is particularly true when you start using social media as a means of communication and networking. It can be very difficult to identify ROI, success rates, and identifying the strength of a contact. Often this is very subjective and entirely situational. Who ever, finds a concrete way to measure this will become very successful.

  4. I also chose measurement.

    This was the hottest and most argued topic at @SMCPhilly with @GeoffLiving this week. How do you measure SM for corporations?

    This feeds into the larger issue. I’m not sure there is an accurate way to measure TRADITIONAL PR right now and David, you bring up a great point in saying the first thing company’s look to cut are programs that seem to offer little ROI.

    PR pros must be able show PR’s value to these decision makers. We know it’s invaluable, but can we communicate that value?

    Thanks for another great post, David.


  5. Great discussion starter, David.

    I followed suit and chose measurement too. While I think the recession and subsequent budget cuts have brought increased scrutiny, the issue of measurement is one that has always taken away from the value that PR pros bring to the table. It’s hard not to get defensive about it too because we all know how much of a difference we make for our clients. You hit the nail on the head in your post in that we need to move away from impressions and ad equivalencies, but often times that’s the most tangible “number” we can put in front of clients, especially when there aren’t dollars available for pre- and post-campaign research. I think this challenge is bigger now with social media. However, the digital shift, including growing online news consumption, should actually help us better connect the dots between our efforts and the desired outcome.

    Thanks again for putting the discussion out there.


  6. I also chose other and agree with Steve that keeping up with how quickly social media and technology changes will be a huge challenge.

    Another challenge I have encountered quite a few times already this year (and actually just ranted about on Twitter today!) is the inability to be open-minded and explore if and how social media can be beneficial for a particular company/organization. I’ve come across many who are so narrow-minded that they refuse to let go of old habits and explore new ways to reach out to key audiences and journalists via social media. It’s hard explaining the benefits to someone who refuses to listen, so I see that as a huge challenge for our industry this year!

  7. HA! a softball indeed 😉 It’s easily measurement in my eyes. If you aren’t able to demonstrate your value in any sort of cohesive way than how could you possibly expect to maintain (or in the rare case) grow your budget?

    I have to tell you the one thing that troubles me most about this discussion at all…why are we using a terrible economic environment to really get serious about measurement. Think about where you’d be if you were measuring all along? Measurement is important all the time, not just when the economy is down.

  8. I agree that measurement is important. I think almost equally important as an industry is defining our seat at “the table.” With traditional advertising budgets being the hardest hit, advertising agencies are looking for new revenue sources. The common sandbox is where digital communities form. And both industries bring something to the table. The road ahead will define the PR industry. We can either help define it or have it defined for us.

  9. I see competition as being a problem this year.

    As the media lays off their editorial staffs in droves, I am finding my media lists changing – and shrinking – week by week.

    We’ll be competing for editorial space in papers. And as client retainers diminish or dissappear, we’ll be competing for new business, stricter budget parameters or even jobs.


  10. All of the above-mentioned are worthy of concern. But I have to agree with Steve Mullen – the constantly changing, ever-evolving field of communications is hard to keep up with. The shift in media prefrences may continue to prove to be one of the biggest obsticles for PR pros.

    The up-side is that these same challenges provide ample opportunities. Our job is to find our “publics” and reach them – wherever they may be. New media simply gives us more ways to do that. Still, it is overwhelming when examined closely.

    Measurement is always a challenge, but I think the future is bright for public relations in regards to measurement. Social media has opened doors for measurement in ways many PR pros never imagined. These new media tools can be used for PR purposes in a number of ways, but gaging consumer perseption and mearurement are what makes social media so useful.

    Oh, and the current state of the economy is obviously the primary concern/challenge every industry faces in ’09 – PR is no exception.

    Just wanted to contribute to the conversation.


  11. Social Media — like web 1.0, like email, like online search, like — hello — the fax machine — yes I’m that old — is something to be incorporated but won’t change the value of getting the right message to the right people….
    On the agency side I still think that finding a repeatable business model (for agencies with 4+ people) that honors experience, builds in training that clients don’t have to pay for, and incents great people to stay in is the challenge ahead this year — we will get through this, we will figure out social media, but if we don’t figure out how to be more valuable and provide more value, then we always be working on measurement instead of value ….

  12. I went a different route. I think the biggest challenge is internal communication/employee communication. No one is immune to the economy, that’s a given. However, I think keeping employee moral up, maintaining two-communication with employees and ensuring that a clear, concise message is spread across an entire organization is going to be key.


  13. @steve, @nikki @jeff g. – good addition. keeping up with all the new tools is overwhelming at times. my head’s starting to hurt just thinking about it… 🙂

    @jeff w. – I agree that impressions and AVE are typically used because they are actual numbers in an industry where we’re hard pressed to produce numbers-based results. That’s definitely part of the challenge.

    @chuck – how in the world did I know you’d pick “measurement?” 🙂

    @brad – excellent point! Digital is definitely a multi-discipline sandbox. PR has an opportunity to show the value it brings to said sandbox. Of course, with the amount of PR agencies slapping “social media,” new media” and “social marketing” into their capabilities decks without actually doing anything to learn about and get smart about the space, the industry also has the opportunity to show the non-value it brings to said sandbox.

  14. If I could just lob in another point about AVE’s and impressions based on David’s and Jeff W’s comments…while AVE’s are definitely a “hard number” I would caution strongly against using them even if your client or boss thinks it’s worthwhile. The AVE formula, if you can find one generally accepted (and there are a few floating out there), assumes WAY to much to have any value. Primarily, it assumes that marketing and PR have similar influence. I don’t think we are anywhere near being able to say that.

    I really don’t have a problem with impressions, though I would caution that you shouldn’t show just that number. If you’re including it in a broader analysis of message pickup, tone, etc… than I think it makes sense.

  15. PRSA-NCC just had a panel yesterday discussing showing value in 2009, and showing measurable results was an overall theme. Steve Grant of NEA said PR needs to do PR for PR.

  16. Another huge problem for PR/brands with SM is the launch of products. Just reading this morning about a Grape Nuts deal with ESPN’s Kenny Mayne and it looks like the first person to publicly discuss it was the person who was HIRED to run the TELEPROMPTER. Will brands force all on sets to sign non-disclosures just like they do with talent and their marketing agencies? Or do they already and now it will just be easier to catch the person who leaks it?

  17. I didn’t pick measurement. Why? Because it was a challenge before and it’ll still be a challenge.

    I’ve mentioned before that we here in Canada (when not doing Yoga as Gutless from Faux News suggested) are lucky to have the MR2P system to at least satisfy the bean counters. Plus with other tools in existence measuring share of voice, etc. isn’t that hard (finding clients to pony up for in depth analyses was tough before and will be tougher in the near future!).

    Measuring Online media is still tricky – particularly because that is still in-exact and for the most part unverified by a third party. But that is improving. BPA is working on this and will not only have ho-hum numbers, but useful demographic data like they do for print audits.

    Measuring Social Media won’t be so much ‘a challenge’ as it will be a mystery. @matthewi gave a great Third Tuesday Toronto presentation about the media shift to SM and spoke about analytics – or lack thereof. As he put it “There’s a gigantic amount of BS out there.” This will give a lot of people fits over the next year and it can’t be ignored.

    But here another big challenge. We talk about how doing PR, at least the media interaction sliver, is about building relationships. With the media attrition that we are seeing (on both sides of the border and across the pond) many of these relationships just don’t exist any more. So suddenly not only are we figuring out who to talk to and why, we also have to figure out how to do that in a changing media landscape. And then we have to start over because the people we’d been working with have been laid off.

    There are plenty of people who bang a “the media is dead” drum, but that’s pretty far from the truth. Journalism is certainly not dead. The traditional dissemination mechanisms of journalism are radically changed, but there is still a need for real and accountable investigative reporting.

    Tweeting can give us alerts. Blogs tend to inspire pre- and post- analysis discussion as well as opinion. But Journalism tends to give us the meat… that we blog about, retweet, etc.

    So as these primary sources of information generation shift about, and as we still have clients who are paying for coverage (in legacy media, new media and social media) just doing that and remaining profitable is indeed going to be a challenge. Heck, it already is.

  18. @PRJack – I am always amazed at the amount of time you give to comment on posts in an insightful, thoughtful manner. I usually feel like you should send me an invoice for how much you share. Thanks, as always!

  19. Blush… so, my place or yours! (just keeeding folks!!)

    Thanks David. I don’t always respond, but when I have a fully baked (or even semi-baked) thought on something I prefer to share it all. I do so in the hopes that it informs, intrigues and inspires.

    And surprisingly it doesn’t take that long if it’s something I’ve already have bouncing around in my noodle. (Who knew that Grade 11 typing class would come in so handy a gazillion years later?)

  20. I chose other, David, for the simple reason that I think the biggest challenge facing PR is the willingness to listen.

    Our industry has a bad reputation – I know that, you know that, and I’m sure the good people commenting here know it too.

    That reputation has led the industry to become a byword for irrelevance and non-importance. Which, when the budget cuts come, mean that PR is at the forefront with marketing for being canned.

    So the old school complains that PR isn’t being respected enough, that not every agency/professional is the same. But it’s the old school that is causing this lack of respect.

    There is a bunch of amazing young professionals coming through. PR interns are bursting at the seams to come into our industry. And they’re being scared away.

    Prehistoric practices and bosses that don’t thing “kids” could offer value are keeping our industry in the mire. There are a bunch of great ideas just waiting in the wings to take our industry forward, but egos and dictators are keeping them hidden.

    So yes, in my eyes the biggest challenge the PR industry is facing is opening up to listening to new people and ideas. We’re meant to be an innovative industry – let’s prove it.

  21. Pingback: Are You Showing Your Value? | Fresh Ideas

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