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Benchmarking public relations

COMMONNESS - Bong R. Osorio (The Philippine Star) - October 13, 2014 - 12:00am

In recent years, the public relations profession has been challenged by the increasing demand for research, benchmarking and measurability. Yet many practitioners still move with their plans using limited research tools or totally do away with any kind of exploratory activities or thorough evaluation of the impact of what they implement. This situation adds up to PR’s gained notoriety among those who don’t really know the real essence of the practice, and sometimes even among those who profess to be practitioners.

Pushing for a culture of research should be every PR person’s concern. PR professionals agree that communications and strategy are the most essential skills in the practice. But one cannot put those skills to good use without a foundation of research and information gathering — market and industry research, news tracking, and competitive analysis. PR people should employ different research methods to make them know their clients better, find their publics more efficiently and choose their communication channels more appropriately.

The key to the firmer acceptance and improved appreciation of PR among organizations and businesses, however, rests in the conscious effort of PR professionals to develop objective evaluation systems. Today, as PR continues to expand its reach, practitioners in various parts of the world are now looking into how the profession is being lived out given the influences of culture, history and socio-economic realities.

Benchmark surveys to determine where PR stands and where it is headed have already been conducted by professional PR organizations and institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. Not to be left behind, the Philippines, through the Public Relations Society of the Philippines (PRSP), launched its own version of the benchmarking investigation the “State of Public Relations Profession in the Philippines” survey — a first-of-its-kind industry review of Philippine PR or of any industry in the country. VOX Opinion Research, the research arm of Publicus owned and managed by Malou Tiquia, APR, executed the survey. The results were first exposed to 240 participants in the hugely successful Sept. 25 to 26 National PR Congress in Tagaytay Vista Hotel.

The survey was conducted online — the most common tool in benchmarking via SurveyMonkey, which was emailed to invited respondents — members of the PRSP, the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Philippines, officers from the Philippine Information Agency, information/communication personnel of government agencies and private corporations, university officials and professors and other private companies. Fifty-three PRSP members and 60 non-members answered the survey, or a total of 113 respondents.

The coverage of the survey questions included the demographic profile of respondents, their prospects and opinions of the profession, the financial outlook of PR practitioners, their business/organizational stance, and the activities/functions they do. The 51-question survey ran from July 22 to Sept. 5. Here are the highlights:

Wide age range and gender-equal. PRSP members who participated in the survey were generally older (median of 35-44 years old) compared to non-members (median of 22-34 years old) covering a range of mid-career to young professionals in the industry. There was also gender parity with equal distribution of male and female participants among members and non-members alike.

Respondent distribution –  The majority of participants came from the National Capital Region. Six in 10 participants, meanwhile, are “Tagalog,” thus implying that PR practice is, at the moment, largely Manila-centric. Unsurprisingly, most PRSP respondents work in in-house departments of private companies, while most non-members work in-house for the public sector.

Years of practice – The majority of PRSP members have been practicing for at least six years, with a significant proportion mastering the profession for close to two decades. Non-PRSP members have at most two years PR experience and can definitely benefit from joining the organization. Consistent with their longer tenure, most PRSP members belong to top management while non-members are mostly mid-career executives.

Professionalism as a key factor – With intensive work experience, the majority of the respondents consider professionalism as highly important in the work they do.  PRSP members demonstrate their professionalism through their membership and compliance with PRSP’s Code of Professional standards.

Knowledge and skill set – More than half of the members and non-members expressed satisfaction with the appropriateness of their talents and wisdom vis-a-vis their current role. They are likewise satisfied that their acquired professional skills and knowledge can help them deal with the changes in the practice of PR in the future.

Good-paying job – Owing to their current seniority level, PRSP members receive significantly higher gross basic income, bigger bonuses and more benefits compared to non-members. Interestingly, many respondents refused to declare their financial status.

Career for life – Despite the disparity in compensation, respondents expressed high satisfaction with their current job. Around one in five respondents want to make PR their career forever. Fascinatingly, a significant number of PRSP members (23 percent) say they enjoy their job but feel under pressure.

Stable turnover – Financial revenues remain relatively constant over the past two years for all respondents, the highest of which more is over P20 million among PRSP members and P3-4 million among non-members. Over the same period, PR/communications budget remained the same, although more PRSP members reported an increase.

Direct reports to company head – Most respondents also reported that the CEO or president exercised direct supervision over their PR division. Notably, about a fourth of non-members say that their PR is part of marketing (21 percent) or the executive committee (21 percent) compared to PRSP members (both at 8 percent).

Dealing with media and advocacy – Media relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) received the biggest chunk of the PR budget among respondents. Predictably, respondents from all sectors say they spend most of their time on media relations, with internal communications (mostly among PRSP members) and information provision (among non-members) coming in second and third, respectively.

Integration and collaboration – Convergence or synergy is the norm in all organizations with increasing teamwork with marketing, events, and advertising departments. PR has also seen increased sharing of social/digital media management and CSR responsibilities with other departments as well.

Expanding roles – Overall, both members and non-members say that PR professionals have a significant contribution to the development of their companies’ communication strategy. Likewise, the spokesperson function is now added to their job description.

PR professional must-haves – Both PRSP and non-members agree that professionalism, experience, and adherence to a standard code of conduct/ethics are significant assets of a PR practitioner. They also say that the broadening skill set required among PR professionals and the lack of understanding of measurement and evaluation will be key challenges to PR in the future.

Merry and effective mix up – Respondents also agree that PR teams can produce more effective PR campaigns if they have the right mix of socio-cultural diversity in their teams composed of members who are apt representations of audiences they communicate with.

Appraisals and metrics – The first state of the PR industry study in the Philippines poses a challenge to an otherwise Manila-centric profession: How to find ways to better relate to a diverse audience base in the Philippines. It also accentuates the need for thorough evaluation and measurability in PR.

The study underscores the importance of being in step with change; of keeping up with an ever-morphing landscape brought about by social media technology while retaining core values of professionalism, transparency and accountability. Gail Keily declares, “In this digital age, there is no place to hide behind public relations people. This digital age requires leaders to be visible and authentic and to be able to communicate the decisions they’ve made and why they’ve made them, to be able to acknowledge when they’ve made a mistake and to move forward, to engage in the debate.”

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Email bongosorio@yahoo.com or bong_osorio@abs-cbn.com for comments, questions or suggestions. Thank you for communicating.

CODE OF PROFESSIONAL GAIL KEILY INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS COMMUNICATORS MALOU TIQUIA MEMBERS NON PRSP RESEARCH RESPONDENTS
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