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Largest PR study worldwide identifies main issues for communication in 2011

July 19, 2011


The study, conducted in March 2011, indicates that communication professionals should reflect on new ways to cope with five topics: first, power and influence in their organisation; second, effective decision making; third, leadership style; fourth, social media governance; and fifth, basic paradigms of the profession and their linkages to overriding concepts of management.

Power versus influence

A longitudinal analysis from 2008 to 2011 shows that power and influence of the communication function has risen steadily during the last years. Nowadays, most professionals are not only responsible for media relations or internal communications, but have a much broader responsibility. 18 per cent of the top level communicators even have a board function.

However, formal power is not always accompanied by enduring influence. 25 per cent of the respondents do not believe that the communication department plays an important role in the overall performance of their organisation, and three out of ten even think it is replaceable.

The research identifies a way for communicators to strengthen their internal position. There is a significant correlation between job enactment and power: Communicators will gain more influence not by speaking out and building images, but by advancing listening skills, by anticipating situations and issues which will inform overall strategy development.

Modes of decision-making

Making decisions is a key aspect of leadership. Quite interestingly, European communicators tend to base their decisions on other rationales than their counterparts in the United States. The ECM data was compared to similar surveys and there are significant differences. Europeans like group-decision making and shared responsibility, while US professionals are more willing to take risks.

Figue 1 shows different roles enacted by communicators and the corresponding decision-making profile. The most advanced role is the "strategic facilitator". It is most common among top-level professionals with the highest income. They are more willing to take risks, they take more time to gather information and they review literature and research before deciding. In contrast, "operational supporters" are risk-averse and rely on best practices. This is not sufficient any longer. Leaders have to develop strategies linked to the specific goals of their organisation.

Figure 1


Leadership style

How can communicators motivate their teams and get things done? Obviously, this  depends on the situation, the industry and the type of organization. There is no single leadership style that fits all. But figure 2 shows the inclusive approach is predominant in communication management in Europe today.

This is especially true for communicators sitting on the board and those with a broad range of responsibilities. Neither authority nor defining visions is as popular as involving team members in shared decision making after naming the challenges.

Figure 2


Social Media Governance

The European Communication Monitor 2011 shows that everybody is talking about fancy tools and platforms in the realm of social media, but basic skills, rules and resources are still missing in many organisations.

Most communication professionals report that their social media skills are below average. Nevertheless, only 21 per cent of the organisations offer training programs. Figure 3 identifies huge gaps. Most communication departments have not defined what success means in social media. A lot of data is available, but it is difficult to interpret it in business terms. So it is not possible to judge whether projects run on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube should be prolonged or killed after a first period of time. It is most important to focus on these structures instead of the tools if communication practice should really change.

Figure 3

New paradigms for the profession

The traditional concept of public relations, which is closely linked to media relations, publicity etc., is discredited in most European countries. The study shows that most professionals want to get rid of it. Corporate communication and Strategic Communication are preferred concepts.

However, it is not only about terms, but also about a new vision: Linking communication to organisational goals, using all kind of channels and not only the mass media, combining speaking and listening are pillars of a sound understanding what communication can deliver.

Leaders in communication should reflect on this. It is easy to talk about this, but it takes a lot to make it come true in any organisation.

Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass,
University of Leipzig, Germany

About the author

Dr. Ansgar Zerfass is a professor of communication management at the University of Leipzig, Germany, and lead researcher of the European Communication Monitor survey series. He is also executive director of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA), had of the jury of the International German Public Relations Award organised by DPRG, and author/editor of 25 books as well as 110+ chapters and journal articles on strategic communication.

About DPRG

Deutsche Public Relations Gesellschaft e.V. (DPRG - the "German Public Relations Association") is a strong professional association for all communications and public relations specialists. DPRG currently has more than 3,000 members representing all the facets of the German public relations sector.


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