New Survey Shows the Top Challenges Communicators FaceA new report from MuckRack (my favorite public relations management software) looks at the state of PR from the perspective of the top challenges we face, the tech and tools most popular among us, budgets, results, and gazing into the crystal ball. 

Some of the results are not surprising (COVID made our jobs harder, duh!), some are surprising (direct messaging has replaced every other form of communication), and some are really interesting (people hate the phone; me, too, man…me, too). 

They surveyed 1,618 communications professionals at agencies (50%), brands (35%), and nonprofits (15%).

They span many different industries, including tech, healthcare, CPG, food and beverage, and more.

They also talked to a good number of people at all sorts of sized organizations, which helps to aggregate great averages.

Here is what they learned…

The Top Challenges Communicators Face

The top challenges communicators face range from getting responses from journalists and measuring results to business outcomes to a lack of quantifiable measurement and budget limitations.

The top four challenges included budget limitations and the inability to measure quantifiable results, in some manner.

This means, as an industry, we are trying very hard to measure results, but when much of what we do is tied to brand awareness, it’s challenging to show a direct correlation.

There is an answer, of course (cough, PESO Model, cough!), but that requires our doing more than what I’d term traditional PR. 

When I talk to clients about this, I always tell them to be prepared to invest at least 70% of their communications budget in the things they can’t see—awareness, visibility, thought leadership, and more.

I talk about how they’ll know it’s working when someone says to them, “You guys are everywhere!”

While that certainly helps with business outcomes, you can’t directly correlate it.

Then I show them how the 30% CAN be correlated, but it requires interdisciplinary and executive cooperation.

Some executives are ready to hear that—and some are not.

You want to work with the ones who are ready.

Top Challenges During The Corona

I find it fascinating that only 33% of agencies said their biggest challenge was losing business.

Between March and April of last year, every time my phone rang, I groaned.

I even picked up the phone when the CEO of a long-term client called and said, “I really don’t want to talk to you.” He said, “I really don’t want to talk to you, either.”


The good news is all that business came back—and then some.

It’s been a completely different experience than losing business during The Great Recession, but it’s still shocking that so few agencies report losing business as their biggest challenge.

Instead, the biggest challenges were getting coverage in the news cycle and finding relevant pitch angles.

Perhaps the difference is in which level communicator the survey reached, but this also differs from our own experience.

If anything, we were able to get more attention for our clients because of the great work they were doing for their employees, their customers, and their communities.

I’d love to know what your experience has been like.

Some of the other responses included working remotely, communicating /collaborating as a team, and scaling back or the elimination of PR (which I would lump under agencies losing clients).

Types of Tools Communicators Use

The survey asked communicators which tools they use daily, weekly, monthly, annually, or never.

Some of the responses aren’t surprising—everyone, literally 100%, uses email daily, as well as documents and spreadsheets. 

As well, direct messaging cement itself as a staple alongside video conferencing and email.

No surprise, based on the last year.

Eighty-two percent use video conferencing every day and 81% use direct messaging every day.

I definitely am counted among those numbers.

What’s shocking to me, though, is that nearly half (47%) say they NEVER use project management software.

How is that even possible??

I don’t know how you do your job, especially with a team, without project management software.

The other thing that shocks me is that three-fourths do not use marketing cloud, marketing automation, or a CRM.

Nearly half (43%) don’t use email automation and less than a third use web analytics.

At the same time, more than half are concerned they aren’t connecting their efforts with business outcomes.

My friends.

Part of the reason you are unable to connect your efforts with business outcomes is that you are not using the tools available to you to track data and demonstrate results.

Even if you’re responsible only for earned media, as this survey suggests, using project management, customer relationship, and analytics software will give you everything you need to demonstrate results.

Call me if you need help figuring it out.

For real.

Reporting Comms Results

The last thing I want to highlight from the survey is how communicators are currently reporting results.

Website visitors is the first way, with social media following close behind.

Agencies are slightly more likely to use traditional PR metrics (vs brands and nonprofits).

The same goes for productivity metrics (41% agency vs 36% brand and nonprofit).

Meanwhile, brands are more likely than agencies and nonprofits to measure sales results (34% vs 26%) and brand metrics (52% vs 40%).

The best news is that there ARE ways we can measure sales results.

It does require some software and know-how, but it’s possible. If this is something you need to figure out, find us in the Spin Sucks Community.

We can all help!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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