Budget used to be among the top communications challenges, but it’s slid down the list every year for the past five; comms budgets don’t show up as a problem until #8 and garnered just 13% of the votes from respondents.
Ask 10 PR people to define public relations and you’ll get 10 different answers. Ask 10 PR pros what their top communications challenges are and about three in 10 will say:
1) cutting through the noise (35%);
2) too many priorities (31%); and
3) lack of employee experience (25%).
Those findings stem from the recently released fifth annual JOTW Strategic Communications Survey for 2022.
“The results mirror the shifts that have happened in the communications landscape over the past two years,” wrote Karen Swim, PR, Marketing and Social Media Consultant, Words For Hire, LLC and President of Solo PR Pro.
Karen was one of five contributors to this year’s survey – helping to both draft questions and analyze the results.
“Cutting through the noise has become a key issue for all organizations and brands as the media landscape has become more dispersed and consumers seek information from a wide variety of sources,” she continued. “
Additionally, we are bombarded with information at work and in our personal lives, and it has become more difficult to rise above the noise and chaos of it all.”
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“Lack of employee experience”
The lack of employee experience is a new challenge near the top of the list for the first time. It’s an interesting time to that answer pop so high on the list because businesses are worried about the economic future. Some are considering restructuring, and often, they let go of more experienced workers first.
Last year this survey found communicators are more valued by organizations in the wake of the pandemic. The pandemic brought with it uncertainty – and clear communications is paramount in times of uncertainty. The pandemic may be waning, but the uncertainty hasn’t so letting go of season communicators in difficult times could prove more expensive in the long run.
“I do see that organizations are valuing experienced communicators more than they have in the past,” says Michelle Garrett, a PR consultant at Garrett Public Relations and also one of our contributors, in the report. “There are too many crucial elements on our plates, so those with experience are sometimes better able to navigate in that type of environment.”
Stacey Miller, the vice president for Communications at the Auto Care Association, and another contributor, agrees.
“The fact that ‘leaders don’t understand comms’ dropped such a significant amount again [compared to prior year results] really exemplifies how the events of the past several years primed demand for comms professionals in organizations,” she said in her assessment. “It feels good to finally be understood.”
The top 10 communications challenges in 2022
When you look at the whole list of top challenges, none of these gained more than one-third of the votes. This just goes to show how diverse the challenges are in communications by sector – which reflects how diverse the role has become in terms of skills.
Here are the top 10 challenges according to the survey:
- 35% cutting through the noise
- 31% too many priorities
- 25% lack of employee experience
- 25% ever-expanding duties
- 23% measuring results / ROI
- 22% not enough staffing
- 20% leaders don’t understand comms
- 13% not enough budget
- 14% disinformation, misinformation, mal-information
- 12% prolonged reviews and approvals
“Communicators have always talked about ‘cutting through the clutter,’ and complained about leaders not understanding communication, or knowing how to measure the results of their work,” according to Shonali Burke, Chief Marketing Officer, Arena Stage, and also a contributor. “There is certainly a lot more noise today than there was 20 years ago, but that is what smart communication has always been about.”
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How communications challenges change over time
We’ve asked a question about top challenges on the JOTW survey now five years in a row. It’s interesting to see how things change over time (see graphic nearby).
Several things stand out to me when taking a long view of the survey results including these:
1) The slip and slide of comms challenges
In the years 2018, 2019 and 2020, the survey saw a majority of respondents cite a single answer as the top challenge. The answer varied some, but starting in 2021 and 2022, no single answer gained such a majority.
In PR and marketing, we often discuss how the media landscape is fracturing and niche audience are rising. I wonder if the diversity of challenges in comms is a natural outgrowth of the environment.
2) No more budget woes for communicators?
Budget used to be the #1 challenge facing communicators. It’s slid down the list in recent years, but it always ranked among the top seven. Except for this year.
Budget doesn’t show up as a problem until #8. Even then it garnered just 13% of the votes. I find this simply stunning.
We asked a dedicated question earlier in the survey about communications budgets. While about one in three (34%) say budgets are up this year – more respondents (38%) say budgets are flat. In addition, about one in five (20%) expect to decrease (12%) or decrease significantly (8%).
3) Priorities and noise swap places
Last year this survey found that “too many priorities” was the top challenge and “cutting through the clutter” ranked second. This year those two challenges have swapped places and that’s a promising sign because these two are clearly related.
The key to cutting through the clutter is to a) be louder or b) be different. To be different, you have to focus. As the old saying goes, half of strategy is deciding what you won’t do.
“Too many priorities is so closely aligned with the first question about how our work has changed, which I don’t expect to see changed in the next three to five years,” said Gini Dietrich, Founder & CEO, Spin Sucks in her contributions. “While our work continues to evolve – sometimes as quickly as in 24 hours – we will continue to have too many priorities.”
She continued, “And, as long as we can’t measure the brand awareness work we do (which I recognize is extraordinarily difficult to do), we will continue to be pulled in too many directions as executives look to capitalize on results.”
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About the JOTW Strategic Comms Survey
This survey was a joint effort between Ned’s Job of the Week (JOTW) and Sword and the Script Media, LLC. Subscribers to both organizations were solicited to take the survey through mentions in the weekly newsletter, dedicated email requests and social media.
Gini Dietrich and Karen Swim also solicited respondents from their respective communities at Spin Sucks and Solo PR Pro. In total 483 respondents took the survey online, using Survey Monkey, from Friday, May 6, 2022, until June 14, 2022.
Most are based in the U.S. (76%) and 70% have 11 or more years of experience. Sixty percent are in-house communicators; another 15% work for agencies and 25% are self-employed as consultants or freelancers. Detailed demographics are included in the full report.
The full report is freely available on SlideShare: The 5th Annual JOTW Strategic Communications Survey for 2022 and can be viewed or downloaded without registration. A copy has also been embedded below for easy viewing. Finally, here is a PDF copy of the report for anyone that prefers that format.
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