This study is sponsored in part by The Institute for Public Relations.
Download Full Paper (PDF): Global Communications Report (GCR17)

The USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations (CPR) has released key findings from its second annual Global Communications Report (GCR17), a comprehensive survey of more than 800 public relations executives from around the world. For the first time, the report features insights from both public relations and communications students and in-house marketing executives.


The USC Center for Public Relations (CPR) fielded two surveys for the Global Communications Report: one for students and one for professionals (which was then broken down into two surveys, one for agency executives and one for in-house corporate executives). Students were given 20 questions, and professionals were given 40. The third survey, composed of 11 questions, was conducted by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), in which they contacted marketing professionals through email based upon the questions asked in the Global Communications survey.

Almost half of PR professionals predict PR and marketing convergence

Both agency and in-house professionals believe that PR will become more closely aligned with marketing over the next five years. Similarly, a majority of marketers believe that the two will be closely aligned in the future. However, 20 percent of marketers believe that PR will become a subset to marketers, compared to five and eight percent of agency and in-house executives respectively.

The term “PR” might have to redefine itself

The study showed that 87 percent of PR executives believe the term “public relations” will not accurately describe the work they will be doing in five years. About half of the professionals believe PR needs to be more broadly defined, while the rest think the term should be changed.

Yet a majority of not-yet-jaded students who were surveyed are more comfortable with the terminology, and fewer than 20 percent think the name should be changed. A majority of students are also confident in explaining the term “public relations.”

Digital storytelling will be the most important communications trend

When asked which communications trend will be the most important in the next five years, PR executives ranked digital storytelling as the highest, followed by social listening and social purpose. Researchers say the significance of digital storytelling exemplifies how the industry has changed with emerging technologies.

Fake news and Donald Trump were both ranked as the least impactful on the future of PR.

Paid, shared and owned media revenue will increase

Media revenue is shifting from earned media to paid, shared and owned. The amount of revenue generated from earned media has declined over the past year and will continue to decline in the next five years, according to the study. A majority of PR executives believe that branded content and influencer marketing will be important trends for the next few years. Corporate media budgets are moving faster toward owned and paid, and revenues from paid, shared and owned media will increase. However, this shift in media trends will require PR professionals to master the skill of media buying, which currently ranks last on the list of skills they think are important to the future.

PR will be measured by achieving measurable business objectives

When asked, “Will PR always be measured by measurement?” an overwhelmingly 77 percent of PR executives said that measurement of results will be based on how PR achieves business objectives. Only 34 percent said measurement of results effectively demonstrates the value of PR.

Almost everyone agrees the PR industry will continue to grow

The five-year average growth rate for PR agencies in 2017 was slightly down from last year, with a 30 percent growth rate. Ninety-two percent of agency executives predict some growth in the next five years, and 70 percent of in-house communicator predict some increase. However, only 43 percent of marketers predict any sort of growth in PR spending.

Creative thinking and strategic insights are the primary reasons clients hire PR agencies, while research and analysis is last. When asked if the number of agencies they will use will change in the next five years, 38 percent of in-house PR leaders say they will use more agencies, while 34 percent of marketers said they would use less. However, almost everyone agrees that the PR industry will continue to grow.

Retaining the right talent remains the biggest business challenge

Hard-to-find strategic thinking was ranked as the most important skill a PR professional needs, outranking writing for the first time.

The study also showed that less than one-third of PR executives believe the industry is doing a good job at positioning itself as an aspirational career choice. A majority of all PR professionals and students said that PR could better position itself by better defining the role of the PR professional, as well as demonstrate the positive impact of PR on society.


While it’s hard to predict the industry’s unique dynamics, the role of public relations will continue to evolve as the industry itself grows. Professionals in the field believe PR in the next five years will redefine itself, while aspiring PR students are ready to tackle the challenges and trends of impacting communications.

Jamie Honowitz is a public relations student at the University of Florida and Media Coordinator at The Agency at UF. Follow her on Twitter @jamiehonowitz__

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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