10 Insights for Public Relations from the 2017 European Communications Monitor

The European Communication Monitor (ECM) is a rare example of excellence between communication theory and practice. The ECM 2017 survey is based on responses from 3,387 communication professionals in 50 countries. It’s the most detailed and robust longitudinal bench-marking study available that characterizes the challenges and opportunities facing our profession.

Analysis is based on 20 countries and different types of organizations including companies, non-profits, governmental, and agencies. The 136 page report is available as a free download. There’s also an excellent summary of ten talking points that reflect on the future of organizational communication (opens as a PDF). The ECM 2017 survey was organized by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), with support from PRIME Research.

1. Visualization in communication:
94.4% of European communication professionals believe that visual communication will gain in importance. This is driven by a rising stakeholder demand for visual communication in the last three years. Most organizations use more elements like online videos, infographics and instant photos in their messaging. But only 4.6% have implemented advanced management processes.

2. Bots as an opportunity or threat to public discourse:
The topic of social bots is largely neglected by many communication professionals. Only one third (35.9%) follow the debate about social bots and 15.9% have no idea about the topic at all. Bots are mainly seen as a threat for public debates and organizational reputation alike. 73.2% agree that social bots present ethical challenges, although four out of ten respondents also see potential opportunity.

3. Shift to social:
Coping with the digital evolution and the social web is the most important issue for communication management in the next three years. However, longitudinal data collected since 2007 from nearly 25,000 communication professionals throughout Europe has repeatedly found the strategic alignment of communication and organizational goals as the most important issue.

4. Channel shift from print to social exaggerated:
Social media and social networks are considered by far (90.4%) to be the most important channel to address stakeholders. Other online communication comes second (83.1%), followed by press and media relations with online newspapers and magazines (82.4%). Longitudinal analyses show that new and social media technology complement traditional channels but they do not replace them. Accordingly, the shift towards online and mobile is consistently overestimated by practitioners. Media relations with print newspapers/magazines are still stronger than expected.

5. Hyper-modernity:
A large majority of the surveyed professionals (71.5%) witness the cultural transformation towards a hyper-modern culture in their country, characterized by a culture of hyper-consumption, hyper-change, and hyper-individualism. Half of communicators (52.3%) confirm that this has already changed the communication between their organization and stakeholders.

6. Change is a constant:
43.5% of the organizations surveyed are already changing from post-modern to hyper-modern with characteristics such as continuous change, decentralized IT, rapid adjustments of the workforce, creativity and ethics of perceived responsibility. The transition to hyper-modern culture is strongest in consultancies (57.2%) and private companies (51.8%).

7. Measurement:
Bench-marking is still a largely neglected field in strategic communication. Communication departments have generally implemented fewer quality management processes (40.7%) compared to other organizational functions. If they assess their activities at all, they focus predominantly on the performance or impact of messaging activities (up to 51.1%).

8. Public relations as a management discipline:
When asked to reflect on the several contributions of communication departments to their organization’s success, communication leaders valued nearly all operational and strategic contributions quite highly. Supporting operational goals/processes of other departments (86.8%), the daily management (86.7%) and the constant improvement of the department (85.8%) were mentioned most often.

9. Value of public relations salaries:
In 2017, almost every tenth communicator surveyed earns more than €150,000 base salary per year (9.1%). Approximately one in five (21.1%) earns less than €30,000 per year. The portion of communication heads and agency CEOs with an annual income over €150,000 stays relatively stable since 2009 (between 13.4 and 18.4%) as well as for other hierarchical levels (between 6.1 and 9.6%).

10. Defining an excellent communications department:
Excellent communication departments are using quality management more intensively. They have also adopted all kinds of bench-marking approaches to a larger extent. They are better in implementing management routines for visual communication and are more likely to be based within post-modern or hyper-modern organizations. Excellent departments are more open to external issues and are noticeably more engaged in public debates about current and more general societal issues outside the core business tasks.