FRIDAY 6 NOV 2015 12:14 PM


For the first time in the four-year history of the PRCA’s In-house Benchmarking Report, in-house teams reported that their primary role is focused on reputation management, rather than awareness. This is a shift that has been noted by PR professionals both in-house and in agencies for a few years. Finally coming to fruition, it means that public relations is now a more strategic, planning-based role responsible for managing the reputation of the organisation and responding to potential reputation-damaging events.

“We’re seen as trusted internal advisors,” says Frances Browning, head of brand and social media the Direct Line Group. She notes that social media has blurred the line between PR and consumer relations making the safeguarding of reputation ever more important and fundamentally changing in-house teams.

Of respondents, 57% said the in-house team is a “Significant corporate team that drives and manages the reputation of the organisation.” Only 30% said media relations was the primary role of the in-house PR professional. Additionally, 96% said their team is responsible for protecting reputation while ‘building awareness’ dropped to 93% – not a significant numerical difference, but a notable shift in focus.

Interestingly, the channel that in-house public relations professionals say is the most important to their communications strategy is print media – at 75%. Online follows with about 50% of respondents marking it important. Panellists at the launch event said this could be down to the fact that business leaders still read print news outlets and impart that focus on the comms team. Yet, both Ed Stearns, head of media for the Metropolitan Police and Mark Davies, communications and corporate affairs director at the Post Office, say print outlets are still favoured when responding to crisis.

Online communications and social media are most useful for proactive communications, they say, while the major newspapers are still the channel of choice for corporate reputation issues and reactive comms. Stearns also notes that 70% of the calls to the Met’s press offices are from print journalists. For public sector organisations, print is also likely the most effective way for PR to influence with government officials.

Other highlights include a rise in the use of AVEs (up from 23% to 40% year-on-year) for evaluating communications campaigns and a rise in employees’ use of social media. Yet panellists say there are likely to be shifts in the next couple of years to the in-house PR role. They note the growing importance of effective evaluation strategies, in both public and private sectors, the growing understanding within the organisation of the relevance and activities of the PR team and an increased focus on data security.

The PRCA, which has focused on reputation management and the ROI of public relations in the past two years, chiefly through its Economics of Reputation research, also announced the launch of a Reputation Group separate from the Corporate Communications Group. The Reputation Group will be multidisciplinary and focus on issues related to reputation management.