New research into the organization of the corporate communications function at leading European companies and other organizations provides some insight into the challenges facing the discipline.
A study conducted by the European Association of Communications Directors, which held its first European Communication Summit in Brussels last week, found a wide range of salary levels—with only a third of respondents earning €100,000 or more; a mixed bag of reporting structures—with only 8.3 percent saying that communication was embedded at an executive level; a fractured approach to reputation management—with the PR and IR functions, and even external and internal communications, handled by different units in most companies; and a continued emphasis on media relations.
“Communication across national boundaries is a management task of increasing importance within a constantly developing European Union,” says Miriam Meckel, director of the Institute for Media and Communication Management at the University of St Galen, which partnered with EACD on the survey. “For communicators in multinational companies, associations, institutions and politics, the European perspective is crucial in their strategic and practical work. Still, there is very little knowledge about the transnational aspect of the communications profession.”
More than 1,100 communication professionals from all over Europe participated in the survey. The largest number of respondents (14.3 percent) came from Germany, followed by the U.K. (10.7 percent), Switzerland (8.6 percent), Belgium (8.1 percent) and the Netherlands (6.3 percent), although 29 countries were represented.
The vast majority (69.2 percent) of those respondents worked for public companies and most of the others (15 percent) for private companies. Almost half (46.1 percent) worked for companies with 10,000 employees or more—although a handful (10.8 percent) worked for organizations with fewer than 100 employees. While many sectors were represented, the industrial, financial services, information technology, healthcare and transport sectors were home to the largest number of respondents.
Many of the respondents (40.8 percent) were responsible for the entire corporate or organizational communication, while 20.5 percent were responsible for a single discipline (such as media relations) and 18.8 percent were responsible for communications in a single market or country.
As far as demographic information is concerned, men (49.8 percent) and women (50.2 percent) were almost equally well represented in the survey. The largest number of respondents (41.6 percent) were in their 30s, with 34 percent in their 40s. Participants have been professionally active for an average of 15 years, and have spent 10 of those years in the communications arena. Previous experience included roles in marketing or advertising (22 percent), journalism (17.8 percent), management, science and academics, technology and engineering, and human resources.
Salary levels were found to be comparable with other management disciplines, with more than a third of respondents earning €100,000 or more. But there was quite a wide range of salary levels, with more than 24 percent earning less than €45,000. The survey also found higher salaries for male communications executives, who accounted for almost two-thirds of those in the €100,000-plus salary range. Those working in a corporate environment—including those in private companies—earned significantly more than those working for trade associations and government bodies.
The average size of the public relations or communications budget at respondent companies was between €250,000 and €500,000, with only 29.5 percent of respondents reporting a budget of more than €1 million and just 4.4 percent reporting a budget of more than €10 million. More than a third (37.7 percent) said budgets had increased over the past five years, compared to 22.6 percent who said budgets had decreased, and 32.2 percent said they expected to see budgets increase in the future, compared to 11.8 who expected them to be downsized.
Moreover, just 8.3 percent of respondents reported that communication was “embedded in top management or at the executive level,” with an additional 9 percent saying communication was a staff unit on a management level. Almost a quarter (24.3 percent) reported that communications reported to marketing, while almost half (46.3 percent) reported that communications was subordinate to another department.
More encouraging was the fact that about half (48.7 percent) said that marketing and PR were “equal on the same hierarchy level” and cooperated closely.
Most companies continue to keep the public relations and investor relations functions separate, although 59.3 percent say the two units cooperate closely. Only 15.4 percent of respondents said PR and IR were viewed as a single entity. There was much closer co-operation between external and internal communications: 37.7 percent said they were a single entity, while an additional 40.5 percent said they coordinated closely.
“The organizational integration is another determining factor for the strategic importance of the profession,” says Meckel. “It turned out that communication professionals hold a significant level of responsibility within their profession: 40 percent of respondents were responsible for the entire organizational communication of their employer, and nearly half of communication departments were embedded on the top-management level—a sign of the growing recognition of the importance of professional communication and the strategic imperative to foster a positive image for the organization.”
Asked to rank the relevance of different stakeholder groups, journalists and media ranked the highest (4.73 on a scale of one to five), followed by employees (or members of an association), managers (4.06), the general public (3.84), clients or suppliers (3.59), political institutions (3.47) and shareholders or capital providers (3.41).
When it came to the objectives of their communications efforts, respondents were most likely to cite the build-up and preservation of positive corporate image (4.78), followed by informing and motivating staff (4.23), the build-up and preservation of positive product image (4.16), keeping the enterprise out of negative headlines (4.16), transparency concerning corporate policy (3.93), and standardization of corporate appearance (3.88).
Respondents were less likely to cite relations with political and other societal institutions (3.48), the detection of trends and social developments (3.47), communication of stakeholders’ interests to management (3.40) and influence on public policy (3.05).
Finally, the majority of respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with their current jobs, with 80.9 percent rating their satisfaction 4 or higher on a scale of one to five and almost a third (32.7 percent) giving their satisfaction the highest rating. There were no significant gender differences when it came to satisfaction, although there was a correlation between salary level and satisfaction. As a result more than two-thirds (69.8 percent) say they intend to remain active in the communications arena.