Home » Public Relations: Three Realities Facing the PR Profession

Public Relations: Three Realities Facing the PR Profession

by | Sep 10, 2019

Capitol Communicator posted a piece about how changes in the advertising community are, among other things, creating shortages of people with the skills needed to be successful in coming years.  In this post, I will examine why the same is true in public relations.

One well-placed insider told me the situation has reached the point where the talent pool for public relations professionals searching for jobs is “lean” and some of those looking are “semiliterate.” Not good for the profession which, in the D.C. market employs a significant number of people.

There are at least three realities facing the public relations field.  The first is the fact that the supply of journalists transitioning into PR is slowing down and, with it, a diminishing number of people who know how to write well; and, second, is that the profession requires – or demands -changing skills.  (I will deal with the third change later in this post.)

The subject of shortages in PR was examined in a 2018 article titled “How to tackle the current talent shortage in PR”  The article quotes Alex Jones, head of earned media at digital marketing agency Hallam Internet, saying that the nature of a career in PR “requires individuals that aren’t only creative, sociable and strategic, but are excellent writers, reactive and aren’t afraid of rejection – and to some, that may be hard to find!

“As our accounts get larger and our clients more demanding, it has become more and more difficult to find candidates ready to jump in and immediately take on client work at the level we expect. Especially within the digital PR space, as a new and evolving service within the industry, finding candidates with both digital, let alone traditional experience, can be extremely tough. Tackling this shortage has required us to think outside the box, and search for talent with transferable skills in traditional PR, but also in industries with parallel skills as well e.g. recruitment, sales and advertising.”

A case can be made that there is another reality facing the public relations field and it will be a focus on ROI – exactly what does the PR team bring to an organization’s bottom line.  A few years ago at an event in which Capitol Communicator was involved, one former CEO talked about why PR people rarely become the heads of major corporations.  That individual stated that at least part of the reason is that they don’t talk about the thing most important in business which, he said, was ROI.   He went on to describe a meeting of senior-level staff at his organization and, he said, almost all of the people at the table were focused on improving the organization’s ROI and, as I remember, he said the head of public relations was talking about how the PR department had created a new exhibit for a conference the company planned to attend.  I wondered how many other CEOs felt the same way about PR as this former CEO did about the real value of the organization’s PR team.  And, the situation will not change until PR pros understand the importance of making ROI part of their vocabulary and job responsibility.

And, there is nothing new about the importance of ROI to the public relations field.  According to an article in Fast Company, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 2011 “initiated a crowdsourcing campaign and public vote that produced the current definition: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

“Although this definition is only two years old, Wendy Zaas, executive vice president at PR firm Rogers & Cowan, believes this is “antiquated in that it truly does not address the integration of marketing and social media as part of the discipline.” PR, she says, should no longer stand alone, since “the communications world is now blended and demands the best of all three disciplines woven together with smart, impactful, and creative strategy.”

“What is also missing from PRSA’s definition is PR’s return on investment, which is a necessity dictated by all clients; measurements taking into account marketing goals and competitor strategies are now the standard.”  (FYI, the Fast Company article appeared in 2014!)

The local insider I talked to said that one way PR professionals are trying to deal with this upheaval and constant change is to become independent practitioners and focus on the specific skill or skills that person knows best. And, PRSA-NCC has a section for independent practitioners called IPRA, the Independent Public Relations Alliance.  But, just how sustainable of a business model is it in the long run for a sole practitioner facing a world of constant change?

What “public relations” is evolving into may not be clear, but it is clear that it will not be what it is today or even what it will be tomorrow.


If you want to add your voice to this discussion, I welcome it.

About the Author

Phil Rabin

Phil Rabin serves as Washington, D.C., and Richmond editor for Capitol Communicator. He has covered developments in communications for The Washington Times, Washington Business Journal, PRWeek, DC Communicator e-newsletter and Capitol Communicator.


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