Usually, it’s wise to ensure your goals nest with your boss’ goals, especially when the boss is the CEO. But a new survey out of the Center for Public Relations at USC Annenberg shows that isn’t happening among some PR pros and corporate communicators.
The annual survey polled 210 CEOs, 1,583 PR professionals and 378 students with an eclectic mix of questions to develop the 2019 Global Communications Report.
The report broke out answers from CEOs and in-house communicators to some of those questions for comparison purposes which reveals gaps (the demographics section reported 760 of the PR respondents came from in-house communications teams – and the rest from agencies).
Three question areas in particular – about goals, issues and technology – stood out to me.
1) A Difference in Communications Goals
When the survey asked, “Of the following communications goals, which is the most important for your organization in the year ahead?” a clear difference in the assessment of the top priority was observable:
- 44% of CEOs said selling products and services was the top communications goal while just 25% of in-house communicators identified sales as the top goal.
As the graphic nearby shows, there’s greater consensus around “differentiating the brand from the competition” while the rest of the answers trail off into the low double digits or less.
Analysis: A 19% difference is a pretty wide gap. Since 45% of respondents said the communications shop reports directly to the CEO, it’s certainly worth checking in with the CEO in your organization to discuss communications goals and priorities. Everyone wears a sales hat, after all, if the business doesn’t make sales, you don’t have a business.
Notably, none of the answers presented scored a majority of the votes. This leads me to wonder if the answers had been organized into a more traditional marketing framework – awareness, brand building, leads, conversion and loyalty – if the results would have shown greater alignment.
To that end, the survey did find that 90% of respondents believed PR would be at least somewhat more integrated with marketing in the next five years. That’s consistent with the findings this survey has found in previous years. Indeed, the best marketing already adopts the more relatable aspects of communications and PR.
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2) A Large Gap in Prioritizing Social Issues
When the survey asked, “Are you likely to communicate about societal issues?” here’s how the answers broke out:
- Just 40% of the CEOs surveyed said they were likely to communicate about social issues compared with 69% of in-house communicators.
Analysis: There’s been a real push in some circles of PR for brands to take a political stand. For example, a study conducted by Edelman in 2018 found “nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world now buy on belief, a remarkable increase of 13 points since 2017.”
The ensuing narrative has been interpreted as brands need to get political.
I find this puzzling because in many cases this would be a resource-intensive task that is liable to drag down productivity and sales. If the country is divided, you can bet for most companies, their employees and customers are too. It seems this survey suggests most CEOs have a similar line of thinking.
To be clear, there are cases where it makes sense. For example, Patagonia weighing in on environmental issues probably resonates with their customers. Technology companies should support Net Neutrality – we should treat the internet as a public utility – because everyone is so dependent on it.
In addition, not all social issues are political. The Annenberg survey listed data privacy, health care and diversity as social issues. Speaking plainly, I tend to view these as straight up business issues with a clear impact on a P&L statement.
Still, it listed others like immigration and gun control, which I believe are social issues that have become highly politicized. There is a long list of issues that the survey did not list (or at least not present in the report) that could be added – and each one might take a business down a different path.
Separately, I believe this area of communications is so important, I invested my own money to conduct my own primary research to look at the issue of brands in politics in detail last year. You can find a summary of that research and a link to download the full report here: Should Brands Take a Public Stand on Politics?
3) PR Technology is about Customer Experience
When the survey asked, “In the coming year, which of the following areas of communications would you most like to advance through the use of new technology?” the results also revealed a gap between CEOs and PR:
- 33% of the CEOs surveyed identified customer experience as a communications area they’d like to improve with technologies – compared with just 18% of in-house communicators.
The rest of the answers are generally more in sync, as the graphic nearby demonstrates.
Analysis: Customer experience or CX is one of the hottest trends in business at the moment. CX grew out of user experience (UX), particularly with technology products, and today includes every touchpoint a customer might have from initial contact to renewals (or referral).
There are three primary ways I envision CX directly affecting the communications shop:
- The potential for CX in thought leadership;
- The direct impact of CX with communications from the business (including matching word and deed);
- The effects of CX in crisis communications, be that stemming from a product defect or customer service engagement gone wrong;
* * *
Communications is a function of leadership. It’s got to be incredibly challenging for a CEO to influence an organization to its peak performance if their communications resources are pulling in another direction.
The full study covers a lot of ground and is an easy read. You can download a copy of the report here with registration: 2019 Global Communications Report.
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