The PR profession has evolved significantly over the last decade. It’s become a more complex discipline and – thankfully – attitudes are changing about the impact that PR can have on a business.
Today, if you invest in PR, or you’re doing it on behalf of a client, then it’s likely you are now much more focused on delivering high quality coverage that makes a real impact on a business. This can be in terms of improving reputation or driving awareness that motivates people to take action, such as visiting a website, sharing content or making a sales enquiry.
However, our recent benchmarking study shows that being good at delivering against one of these objectives doesn't necessarily mean you'll be good at delivering the other.
The missing link to PR success, uncovered by our PR Vital Signs report, is 'PR maturity'. Regardless of the outcomes you're hoping to achieve, building a mature PR function is critical in determining the overall effectiveness of your efforts.
Defining PR maturity
But what does PR maturity mean? That you have lots of grey hair and remember faxing press releases? You work for an established market leader? Or you’re part of a huge global PR team?
Well, no. Our study found there is no link between the maturity of the PR function and size, budget or experience, which is good news as even the smallest company can aspire to PR maturity and PR success.
PR maturity simply reflects how well your PR function is set up to respond and flex with the challenges of our changing communications landscape to ensure the impact of activity is optimised.
What makes for a mature PR approach?
Breaking this down, we found three clear factors that have a direct impact on the maturity of a PR function: Professionalism, leadership and engagement.
On the whole, the industry scores pretty high on professionalism – a positive sign as this provides the necessary foundation for a mature organisation. And we’re pretty good at engagement too, communicating authentically and securing audience trust.
In contrast, leadership demonstrated the most room for improvement, yet is by far the most powerful influence on maturity. We have all experienced CEOs and MDs who are sceptical about the value of PR, and it’s clear that if you don't have a champion at board level it's going to be hard to really excel in PR, whatever your goal.
The path to maturity
So, what can we do to boost our maturity and have positive impact on PR success? Our research presents some key areas for improvement for the PR industry.
While we score strongly for softer maturity measures, such as building and sustaining relationships, there is a clear opportunity to improve performance when it comes to harder practical execution.
In particular, PR teams who want to improve performance across the board should focus on building their influence with the C-suite. Create a strong vision, work continuously to build mutual stakeholder trust through dialogue and, finally, operate professionally and with integrity.
Debby Penton is a director at EML Wildfire. The PR Vital Signs report can be downloaded here.