PR Upswing Keys Integrated Solutions

Business and non-profit executives are turning to their PR professionals to orchestrate social media, as well as overall messaging.A reputable study says private and nonprofit organizations are using social media more and relying on public relations professionals to assist them. Nonprofits rely on social media more heavily than private businesses because it is more cost-efficient than paid media.

These findings come from the seventh biennial Generally Accepted Practices report on PR, produced by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The report marked huge increases in Facebook, Twitter, blogs and online video since 2009, when the last study was conducted. More energy is being devoted to search engine optimization and less to wikis and virtual worlds.

One of the most striking findings is that business and nonprofit executives view social media as the domain of PR professionals who generate content. But increasingly, executives also believe PR pros should take charge of messaging for customer relations and internal communications.

Increasing numbers of PR professionals have a seat at the table of top executives in their organizations, which translates into communications strategies becoming a more critical part of overall strategy. As consumers demand a larger voice in brand decisions, organizations have turned to PR professionals to make effective connections.

The bad news for PR firms is that corporations are discarding the concept of "agency of record." The percentage of companies with a single PR firm fell from 58 percent in 2002 to 18 percent for private companies and even lower, 15 percent, at public companies.

Despite the reliance on PR to manage social media and brand conversations, PR budgets are up only slightly, according to the report. Flat budgets may not be cause for a party, but they are better than plunging advertising budgets, which have shuttered some agencies. In-house marketing departments also have suffered declines.

The picture painted by the report underlines why both advertising and PR agencies are gravitating to integrated services. Social media may be less costly, but it isn't always up to carrying the entire communications load. In a busy world bombarded with messages of all kinds, repetition in as many channels as possible is critical, convincing PR and advertising executives they need to blend their skills.

Integrating services doesn't automatically mean advertising shops expand into PR or PR firms add creative departments. Integration is as much an approach to client problems as it is an agency organizer. It puts a premium on matching strategies and tactics with client needs and consumer wishes. 

An integrated solution at its best fits in a budget, using creativity and spunk to fill in for a lack of cash. Between the lines of the Annenberg School report, it's clear integrated services is a concept that is catching on.