A thought-provoking article in this week’s The Economist, subtitled “As advertising struggles, PR steps into the breach,” suggests that PR will grow faster than the advertising industry. It refers to an internal Procter & Gamble study that found that PR gives a better return on investment than advertising. Investment bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson has forecast that in the U.S. spending on PR will increase at 9% annually over the next five years, ahead of growth in advertising spending. This has to be put into context. Total PR spending in 2005 was around $3.7 billion out of a total pool of $475 billion spent on advertising and marketing. However all of the PR spending goes to agencies, while the majority of the remainder goes to media companies.
Today PR entails being involved with every aspect of how people encounter information and make sense of it. It is about being engaged in the flow of messages through an intensely networked world. These capabilities are far more pertinent and valuable than formal advertising, that seeks to persuade from within a defined frame. There is no question that PR, or whatever the field morphs into, will hold greater sway in coming years. What I wonder about is how this will affect the integrity of the content we have access to. Already newspaper articles are often reprinted or rehashed press releases. PR agencies have significant blogger initiatives, looking to influence “citizen journalists” as well as traditional media representatives. How far will the influence of PR flow into our sources of information, and will it be possible to filter these effectively? The answer is yes, however it will require greater attentiveness, and willingness to seek multiple sources. The energy and sophistication that will go into influencing the flow of messages in the few next years will be staggering.