Quarter of PR Pros Rethink Career After 9-11
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Quarter of PR Pros Rethink Career After 9-11

About a quarter of public relations professionals responding to a survey by the Council for Public Relations Firms say their commitment to the profession was diminished by the terrorist attacks of September 11.

Paul Holmes

About a quarter of public relations professionals responding to a survey by the Council for Public Relations Firms say their commitment to the profession was diminished by the terrorist attacks of September 11. Those most likely to report a decreased commitment included younger respondents aged 20-29 (33 percent), as well as those living in the New York metropolitan and tri-state area (34 percent).
 
The 276 employees (25 percent of total) who reported a decreased career commitment in light of the attacks consistently responded more negatively to practically every question, revealing that they were traumatized personally and professionally by the events of September 11. These employees were more likely to say the events of September 11 had a significant personal impact, and were more likely to have changed their personal priorities since the attacks. They were also more likely to have changed the way they viewed the profession, and were twice as likely as the average respondent to work fewer hours and take more time off from work.
 
The vast majority of public relations professionals (85 percent) have changed their personal priorities since the September 11 attacks. The most prevalent change, cited by nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of respondents, was that they are spending more time with their families and friends. Other work-related changes were mentioned by about one-quarter of those surveyed: working fewer hours (28 percent),  less willingness to travel on behalf of clients (28 percent), spending more time with religious organizations (26 percent) and spending more time on volunteer efforts (22 percent). 
 
The personal emotional impact of the terrorist attacks was most clearly felt by those living in the New York metropolitan area, while those working in consumer and brand marketing felt the most impact professionally. Those living in New York and environs also claimed that the September 11 attacks had the most impact on their personal behavior: 6.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, compared with a national average of 5.9.
 
The good news: nearly three-quarters (71 percent) reported that their commitment to spending their careers in the public relations industry has not changed in light of the September 11 attacks, while three percent of respondents reported an increased commitment. 
 
And more than twice as many PR professionals continue to characterize the industry in positive rather than negative terms. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) describe the public relations industry favorably, with the most frequent description emphasizing that public relations and communications are vital to the well being of American commerce, cited by nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent). An additional 16 percent said that public relations and communications serve as the conscience of corporate America. 
 
But nearly three out of ten (29 percent) of those surveyed hold negative perceptions of the PR industry; believing that PR is too opportunistic (16 percent), that it lacks relevance to the world at large (7 percent) and lacks relevance in the respondents’ own lives (6 percent).
 
The survey also looked at the way employees viewed their own firms’ efforts to deal with the events of September 11.
 
The majority of those surveyed were satisfied with the communications and support they received from their own firms in dealing with their concerns in the wake of the attacks. The average score was 7.5 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being very satisfied: 44 percent claimed that they were very satisfied with their firms’ response, while only 5 percent reported that they were very dissatisfied.
 
  The PR professionals who were most satisfied with how their firms responded included those working in the Midwest (7.8), New York area (7.6), those 50-plus years old (8.4), with 16-plus years experience (8.1), as well as those who work for the largest firms (7.8). Those who were least satisfied included those working in the West (7.0) and South (7.1), the youngest employees aged 20-29 (7.2), from the smallest firms (7.2), and, ironically, those working in issues and crisis management (7.2).
 
Respondents offered a variety of ways that they would like to see the PR industry respond to the attacks and the current economic climate.  In particular, they focused on the manner of responding: that the industry should not be opportunistic and should show more sensitivity. Others expressed their preferences in terms of actions, including more emphasis on client service and a return to business as usual. Still other employees would like to see the industry spending more time on messaging, by addressing real issues and avoiding negativity. Fewer respondents cited philanthropic efforts, including pro-bono work and philanthropic contributions.
 
Many respondents also expressed concern about the impact of the terror attacks on client-related programs. The majority of PR professionals who have client contact reported that the 11 September attacks would have an effect on their client-related programs, since the average score was 6.7 out of 10, where 10 represented a significant effect. Those working in consumer and brand marketing were most likely to expect a significant effect, while those working in financial and investor relations were least likely to anticipate any effect. 
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