It''s great to see organizations budgeting more and expecting more from their public relations personnel and agencies. According to GAP III, the third annual Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices Study, published by the USC Annenberg School for Communication’s Strategic Public Relations Center (SPRC), 2004 was a “Bounce Back” year nationwide. 

Even though my observations are anecdotal, I can report that there was more strength in the PR market in Houston and Dallas last year, and that momentum has continued into 2005.

The new study, sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms, found the following:

  • Public relations budgets grew -- Among all revenue categories PR budgets rose by an average of 3% in 2004 versus 2003, with much larger increases in some categories. Of equal significance, companies that reported increased budgets in 2004 expected another budget increase in 2005.
  • Public relations staffs grew – Outside of the Fortune 500, every revenue category remained the same or increased PR staff size from 2003 to 2004.
  • Public relations’ self perception improved – Respondents indicated that their CEOs now believe that PR makes a greater contribution to organizational success than eight other common disciplines. PR’s rise was accompanied by either stagnation or declines in the rankings of the other eight functions.
  • Public relations were involved in strategy – When asked to rank the extent to which public relations contributed to strategic planning within their organizations, PR increased across all revenue categories in 2004 versus 2003 and 2002.
  • Public relations reported to C-level executives – Public relations typically reports to the “C-Suite” in organizations of all types. In four of six surveyed categories the percentage of companies reporting to the CEO, COO or CMO rose in 2004.

So what should we make of the fact that senior-level PR people say their CEOs now believe that PR is the biggest contributor to organizational success, ahead of marketing, finance, legal, sales, and others? Is this a case of public relations people being cocky? Probably not, since PR was ranked sixth out of eight functions in both 2003 and 2002.

In a news release about the study, researchers said that last year''s improvement in the business climate, coupled with the increasingly important role of sophisticated communications strategies may serve as a springboard to added growth and respect for the profession. One analysis of the data is that the improved standing of public relations may be attributable to the “transparent, communications intense environment in which we now find ourselves.”

If this is true, public relations practitioners will need to redouble their efforts to institute standards and practices that are transparent and reject those activities that border on deception. Unfortunately, we''re a long way from that standard today, as the profession has a growing reputation for operating "under the radar" by engaging third parties (such as expert spokespersons) who may not be as disinterested as they might appear.

If a person or organization is being compensated in any way -- either monetarily or in-kind -- that relationship should be disclosed as a matter of course prior to statements to the media or your community. Anything less can and should harm your organization''s reputation.