Earlier this summer, Frank Strong and Ned Lundquist began the fifth annual JOTW (job of the week) Strategic Communications Survey. They asked Karen Swim, Michelle Garrett, Stacey Miller, Shonali Burke, and me to help them field it—and to get responses from each of you.
I viewed it as a competition (as I am wont to do) to see who could get the most responses and let’s just say I didn’t win (Ned did), but the Spin Sucks Community was a close second!
But that’s not the point of this article (though we need to do better next year, people—I like to win!). The survey returned some interesting stats—everything from how our work is changing—from volume to variety—and our top three challenges, along with the top activities.
The Volume of Work Has Increased
I know this will not come as a surprise to most of you, but nearly everyone who was surveyed said the volume of their work has increased. I am not at all surprised by this.
The Covid-era combined with social justice, climate change, war, and political unrest has made our jobs even more demanding with a focus on values and DEI. This will not change—things will continue to get more demanding, and we’ll have to evolve with the times.
In the open-ended responses to this question, respondents said things like, “The need to debunk mis- and disinformation has risen.” And “Taken more seriously by the C-suite.”
Yes, and…we talked last week about how, while we are being taken more seriously (finally!), we also are under greater demands to measure our work—ALL of our work—back to the shiny, silver dollar.
So while it’s great that the work we do is becoming more respected, we (as an industry) must at the same time do a significantly better job of measuring return on investment.
The Work Has Also Changed
That goes to show another stat from the survey which discusses how the work has changed during the past few years. Half of the respondents said it’s changed significantly or very significantly, giving way to things such as owned media…and the PESO Model™. Yippee!
We all know earned media has changed during the past few years, giving way to bloggers, podcasters, and influencers while losing trust among the public.
Some of the respondents said things such as, “There is more and more crisis communications work that interrupts our days. We are in a constant state of alert.” And “More focus on DEI, social issues, and health and well-being.”
In the report, Stacey Miller said, “The silver lining in intensified demand and volume for strategic communications expertise in the wake of the past several years’ events is certainly validation for the ROI of our profession. The challenge will be in properly allocating long-term headcount and budget. It’s hard to predict how long these needs will be amplified.”
We Have to Do Better at Measurement
And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will add that another challenge is in appropriately measuring the work we do as our work intensifies and we do add in things such as the health and well-being of our colleagues and DEI—both of which are not measurable to revenue.
It’s an exciting time to be doing strategic communications work. Heck, the past two and a half years have proven exciting for us. But it’s not without its challenges, that’s for sure.
There are lots of other goodies from the survey this year, including the top three challenges we face, how we’re measuring our efforts, the top activity, and more.
Let’s look at each of them.
Strategic Communications Budgets
About one in three (34%) say budgets are up this year, but more (38%) say budgets will remain the same. Another 20% see budgets decreasing (12%) or decreasing significantly (8%).
The only thing I think will change this is the survey was fielded before recessions rumors began to swirl. If we were to ask strategic communications pros now, I venture to guess these stats will change.
Strategic Communications Challenges
Respondents identified the top strategic communications challenges as:
- Cutting through the noise;
- Too many priorities; and
- Lack of employee experience.
The lack of employee experience is a new challenge near the top of the list for the first time. And I agree it’s a challenge. A client recently sent me a bunch of content their competitor is creating and said, “Can we do this?”
The answer, of course, is yes, but not with their current team. There isn’t enough experience on their team for them to do what they want—and they don’t want to pay extra to have my team create it.
Rock, meet hard place.
DEI Is the Top Comms Activity
Some 59% of respondents said their organization will emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) activity this year. It was the only activity among more than a dozen listed to earn 50% of the votes.
DEI was followed by thought leadership (49%), data & analytics (48%), storytelling (48%), comms strategy (46%), measurement (46%), internal comms (44%) and ESG programs (43%).
Most Common Measurement Methods
The most common ways communicators are measuring results are web traffic (56%), impressions (51%), and the number of placements (50%).
The order of precedents of these methods is very similar to the last time this question was asked in 2020.
And this, my friends, is why our industry is in trouble when it comes to how executives value our work. This is not measurement. They’re not even vanity metrics. We have to, have to, have to do better.
Last week’s podcast episode covered what you should be measuring—and how to use an OKR model. Listen to it again, study it, take notes, and then ping me with questions.
Impressions and a number of placements are not going to help you excel in your career.
A Mix of Internal and External Resources
About one in three (31%) say they are taking more strategic communications work in-house—while 22% say they are taking less work in-house.
However, 36% also said they will send more work to outside resources such as agencies and freelancers. Execution or “an extra pair of hands” is the top reason respondents say they hire an agency. It’s the only choice with a majority (53%) of the votes.
Agencies and freelancers were asked separately about the potential for new business this year—70% said new business would increase (62%) or increase significantly (8%).
Again, I would expect these stats to change if the survey were fielded now, as many of us have either helped our clients prepare for a reduction in force or have watched them happen.
Organizational Trust In Traditional Media
More strategic communications pros say their organization trusts the traditional media than do not; still, it’s less than half (49%) while about one in five (22%) say their organization does not trust the traditional media.
We’ve already seen a huge shift in how we do earned media. This continues to be a challenge—and won’t end anytime soon.
Concerns About Bias
Bias in media of all forms—from social media to search algorithms to professional journalists—is very much on the minds of strategic communications professionals.
Social media earned the lowest marks for bias, while traditional journalists earned the best marks. More than half (54%) are very or extremely concerned about bias on social media—compared to 28% who are very or extremely concerned about bias among professional journalists.
This, of course, isn’t a big surprise, considering what we’ve gone through since 2016. But something for us to be concerned with because so much of what we do relies on ethics and trust. After all…spin sucks.
Check Out the Full Survey
It’s a community full of crazy smart professionals—and we don’t focus solely on taking surveys. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s smart…and you might just learn a thing or two from your peers.