The European Communication Monitor (ECM) is an annual longitudinal trans-national survey of European communications professionals, first carried out in 2007. It describes itself as, “the largest survey on strategic communication, corporate communications, communication management, and public relations worldwide.” The 2013 version asked 39 questions and received 2,710 responses from 43 countries.
This article is the first of a series of IPR blog posts that review the ECM 2013’s methodology, results, and implications. This first post covers the overall demographics, methodology, and results. Future posts in this series will focus on what the survey’s results have to say about the strategic role of PR; about salaries, budgets and status; and about the impact of professional organizations.
If you’d like to browse the results yourself, you can download the ECM 2013 Chart Report as a 126-page pdf, or view the same thing in the form of slides. Or you can watch the highlights on YouTube, but be aware that only a tiny fraction of the results are presented there.
First, a quick summary of the methodology and demographics, then a list of the major subjects of the report, and one or two major findings for each of those subjects.
Methodology and Demographics:
The ECM is conducted by a core group of five university professors, led by Professor Ansgar Zerfass from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and supported by a wider professorial advisory board drawn from 11 universities across Europe. It is organized by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA), the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), and Communication Director magazine. It is sponsored by Ketchum.
Although the ECM describes itself as longitudinal, it does not track the same individuals year after year. Says Professor Zerfass, “…we are not able to take a representative poll (because the full population of PR professionals is unknown) and because we do not have a fixed list of people who are invited each year. This is a major difference to other studies which research the general population, voters, national customers, etc., where representative polls are possible and where market research companies are running stable panels. Because of this, changes in the data are influenced by variations in the respondents’ group.”
30,000+ communications professionals were invited to participate, based on a database provided by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD). Additional invitations were distributed by way of national branch associations and networks. 14% of actual respondents belonged to the EACD, and 64% belonged to a national or international communication association.
4,800 began the questionnaire, and 2,800 completed it. A total of 2,710 usable questionnaires were returned, for a 9% return rate.
The average age of respondents was 41, and 58% were female. They were generally quite experienced (58% had greater than 10 years experience, and 26% had 6 to 10 years experience), and held leadership roles (43% were head of communications or CEOs, and 28% were unit leaders). They were also well educated: 93% had an academic higher education degree, almost all of which were in communications or communications-related disciplines. The respondents were from 43 European countries: Over one-third from Western Europe, about one-quarter from each of Northern and Southern Europe, and the balance from Eastern Europe.
Major Subjects and Findings of the ECM 2013 Survey:
The ECM 2013 questionnaire included 18 sections of 39 questions. Below is a brief summary of the topics of the survey and just a few of the many basic findings for each topic. If a subject or result interests you, download the Chart Report to find much, much more detail. Note that the ECM 2013 focused on, and often found, variations between countries and types of organizations. Many of the basic results reported below are subject to such variability. For instance, communication professionals in Northern Europe are, on average, much better paid and much more optimistic about their careers than those elsewhere in Europe.
- CEO communication and reputation: Despite near unanimous agreement on the importance of the CEO’s personal communications abilities, only 56% monitor the CEO’s reputation.
- Digital gatekeepers and social media communication: Compared to previous years, the perceived importance of social media (SM) is not increasing, implying that SM is maturing in the media mix. For all SM platforms there is a gap between perceived importance and actual implementation, especially for mobile applications. 73% agree that SM content changes the perceptions of external stakeholders, yet only 38% say their organizations have developed adequate strategies and policies to communicate with SM gatekeepers.
- Social media skills and use by professionals: Respondents report only “moderate” overall capabilities. While private SM use shows strong variability with the age of the respondent, professional SM use is much less age-related.
- Communication strategies for different generations: The intergenerational digital gap appears to be closing, with 86% of respondents reporting the same overall media preferences and behaviors when communicating with stakeholders of various age groups. Nevertheless, many organizations use specific media to approach different age groups.
- International communication: 82% communicate internationally at least some of the time, and 73% agree that, “Communicating internationally will become more important in the next three years.” However, only 48% agree that, “My organization has solid structures and strategies for international communication.” Of those who communicate internationally daily, a majority do so with 6 or more countries, and nearly 1/4 with more than 20. Only 42% of international communications activities target North America.
- Crisis communication: 68% of respondents dealt with a communication crisis over the last year. Media relations (76%) and personal communication (73%) were the most common tools to deal with respondents’ most important crises, whereas social media was mentioned by only 38%.
- Strategic issues and influence: 79% of respondents report that senior managers take the recommendations of the communications function seriously. The most important issues for communications management are linking business strategy and communication, and coping with digital evolution and the social web.
- Status, budgets and perspectives: 87% say communications has become more important for the success of their organizations, and 62% say the influence and status of their current roles has increased. Only 15% say their budgets have been increased above average, whereas 41% say their budgets have been reduced above average. Nevertheless, 59% are optimistic about the future development of their professional careers, with strong regional differences.
- Salaries: 21% of respondents made over £100,000, and 22% made less than £30,000, with strong regional differences. Salaries appear to be decreasing over the last 4 years.
- Impact of professional associations: 32% feel there is a high impact of national professional organizations for advancing communication management, 29% feel there is a high impact of the European Association of Communication Directors (one of the sponsors of the survey). Services provide by communication associations are valued differently by professionals on different hierarchical levels.
Note: While reviewing the results, I noticed that although this is the seventh annual survey, very few of the results are presented as trends over time. (Exceptions include the perceived importance of social media tools, budgets, and annual salaries.) I asked Professor Zerfass about this, and he gave three basic reasons why the ECM doesn’t repeat many questions year after year:
- Doing so would result in fewer respondents, because a longer questionnaire would be required.
- Doing so would result in a less productive research strategy, because of less opportunity for hypothesis testing.
- Doing so would result in less reliable results, because of the year-to-year variations in the demographics of the respondents.
Caveat: If you find anything here that seems interesting, go read the original report to understand just where the data or conclusions come from. As is the case with any research, before you cite, quote, or attempt to impress your colleagues at a cocktail party, you definitely want to make sure of the methodological details. This is especially true with survey research, where responses can be affected by subtle aspects of the questions, data analysis, and survey demographics.
Bill Paarlberg is the editor of The Measurement Standard and has been editing one newsletter or another about public relations measurement since 1992.