USC Annenberg Study Predicts Continued Convergence of Marketing and Public Relations

April 4, 2017

Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations
Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations

According to USC Annenberg's 2017 Global Communications Report, PR and marketing functions continue to converge, with 87 percent of the respondents saying the term “public relations” won’t accurately describe their work in five years.

As the report shows, some see “public relations” as an outdated phrase because of its continued connection to marketing. Almost half of the 800 communicators surveyed believe that the PR profession will converge with marketing, with only 8 percent sensing that public relations has a future as a distinct and separate function. Marketers feel the same way — 57 percent see the two functions as more aligned in years ahead, and 20 percent predict that public relations will become a subset of marketing.

“Monitoring this trend toward convergence, and understanding its implications, is one of the most critical issues facing the public relations industry today,” Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations and chairman of Golin, said when announcing the results. “We’re seeing a lot of consolidation on both the agency and corporate fronts, which has the potential to diminish the role of the PR professional.”

Despite the possible identity changes, the survey suggests a bright future for public relations after all — almost all (92 percent) agency executives predict growth in the next five years, while 70 percent of in-house executives forecast an increase in their budgets and headcounts.

More than 800 PR executives, along with 700 PR and communications students, took part in the second annual Global Communications Report, which USC issued on March 30.

3 Takeaways From the Survey

1. The profession is shifting away from earned media toward owned and paid media. Sixty percent of all PR executives believe that branded content and influencer marketing, which are both primarily paid, will be important trends in the next five years.

2. Students see public relations as an “aspirational career,” while professionals don’t. Fifty-eight percent of students see public relations as an aspirational career, compared with only 32 percent of professionals. Fifty-one percent of professionals think that this could be rectified by “quantifying the impact of PR on business outcomes,” but only 25 percent of students agree.

3. A PR career meets some, but not all, of students’ expectations. While only 27 percent of students believe that a PR job provides attractive compensation and benefits, a vast majority say that they the career gives them the ability to be creative. In addition, 65 percent of respondents think that the PR profession lives up to their expectations of working in a challenging role. Overall, 68 percent of students say they’d be proud to say they work in public relations. — Dean Essner


David J. Therkelsen, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

This discussion has been going on for a very long time, and of course there are a lot of reasons for it to be very salient in current times. I was a public relations manager (23 years), marketing executive (8 years), and CEO-level general manager (12 years) so I feel I can view the debate broadly and with less of a "turf" orientation. My large concern is that we continue to have well-educated, broad-gauged people in our organizations who are concerned with all of our stakeholder groups, not just customers and potential customers. What we call it matters less than that we make sure this perspective is reflected at C-suite levels.

April 8, 2017

Emmy Lou Burchette says:

All brand, marketing and communications strategies and initiatives need to be aligned and integrated. While functions such as Marketing and Public Relations can be defined as separate activities, the key is to make sure the desired outcomes support a common vision and set of goals.

April 12, 2017

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