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Too Many Priorities: The 10 Top Communications Challenges Facing PR in 2021

Top communications challenges are 1) too many priorities 2) cutting through the noise and 3) working with “leaders that don’t understand comms” (36%) – educating execs is “superpower” 

When businesses face a problem they don’t know how to solve, it tends to turn to one of two departments for help: legal or communications.  By the looks of the 2021 JOTW Strategic Communications Survey results, that’s never been truer than today.

Businesses have faced problem after problem since March of 2020 and the people they relied on the most to help navigate unchartered waters have been professional communicators. As such, the value of PR and communications has grown in the eyes of business.

The 10 Top Communications Challenges Facing PR

This new recognition of value, while welcome, doesn’t come without challenges. Media relations is still difficult, political and social issues continue to add complexity to public communication and communicators are facing a plethora of priorities.

Indeed, “too many priorities” tops the list of top challenges facing communications and PR professionals. Below are the top PR challenges in 2021, according to the survey:

  • 40% said too many priorities
  • 37% said cutting through the noise
  • 36% said leaders don’t understand comms
  • 35% said ever-expanding duties (i.e. social media, content, etc.)
  • 29% said not enough staffing
  • 26% said not enough budget
  • 24% said scope creep
  • 23% said measurement / ROI
  • 12% said executive buy-in
  • 11% said lack of alignment with marketing

Stacey Miller, Senior Director, Communications, Auto Care Association believes part of the problem stems from “leadership not fully understanding the workflow of comms and the time and effort behind campaigns.”

Ms. Miller was one of six outside contributors that helped analyze the survey results.

“Those who are responsible for both internal and external communications must be absolutely overwhelmed,” she wrote. “Now that comms has proven their value, we should start positioning an agency partner or solo PR pro as a necessary element to achieve our goals in-house and to continue or improve the success of the department.”

'Now that comms has proven their value, we should start positioning an agency partner or solo PR pro as a necessary element to achieve our goals in-house and to continue or improve the success of the department,' says @staceylamillerClick To Tweet

Here’s what those top PR challenges look like graphically:

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And here’s what that looks like in detail:

(click image for higher resolution)

Some of the additional answers to challenges included the review and approval process (10%) and the employee experience (9%) Another 7% cited “other” and several open-ended comments provides a good bit of context. Open ended comments ab out challenges included:

  • Absurd influence. “Absurd hunger for ‘influencer’ outreach…  and failure to understand that so-called ‘influencers’ are largely just seeking monetary reward.”
  • The comms band aid. “Business leaders who think great comms can solve poor leadership.”
  • Mission confusion. “Incompetent comms staffers that think comms is the mission of the organization instead of a support function.”
  • Diversity. “Complete dearth of true diversity – ethnic and experience, in particular.”
  • Remote work. “Connecting newly remote workers to organizational culture, values.”
  • Order takers. “Comms leaders don’t understand how to be proactive, and strategic and just SIT at the table. They are order takers too often.”
  • All of the above. “Mostly we’ve changed our order taker, reactive approach. But many others still think of us that way. I just started in an ambitious company with 10,000 employees and a comms team of two. I get a lot of administrative requests so am trying to educate people about what my role should be and how I add value. And that’s not by running their Live Events meetings.”

Educating execs on comms is a “superpower”

Interestingly, the top PR challenges cited this year is a change from the top challenges in prior year surveys where budget and ROI were the top challenges.

Here’s a look at that shift:

(click image for higher resolution)

“Take yourself back to March or April of 2020; who would have thought that budget would be a lesser concern?” wrote Michael Smart, CEO, Michael SMART PR, LLC in an analysis of the survey results. He was one of six contributors to offer such feedback.

He continued, “The exploding economy means our budgets are back, but we have too much to do. Educating and persuading executives to focus is the 2021 superpower.”

Indeed, it reminds me of a time when I commanded a company in the Army National Guard, and my First Sergeant used to say, “Sir, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”

He was right of course, and it’s a lesson that stuck with me for a long time. As they say in PR and marketing strategy circles, one-half of strategy is deciding what you’re not going to do.

'Educating and persuading executives to focus is the 2021 superpower,' says @michaelsmartprClick To Tweet

About the 2021 JOTW Strategic Comms Survey

Ned’s Job of the Week (JOTW) newsletter and Sword and the Script Media conducted the fourth annual JOTW Strategic Communications Survey to understand trends in the field of communications.

About 300 professionals took the survey: 97% of respondents are based in the U.S.; 88% report having 11 or more years of experience; 62% of respondents are in-house communicators; and respondents come from more than a dozen different industries.

Detailed demographics are included in the full report which is freely available on SlideShare and is embedded nearby.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Wake of the Pandemic: Businesses Value the Role of PR and Communications More than Ever [Survey]

Image credit: Unsplash

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