Buyer Survey: The Purchasing Power of Public Relations Practitioners

Article excerpt

Public relations practitioners are moving fast into the technologically complex 21st century, purchasing a wider, more sophisticated spectrum of products and services than ever before. A recent PRJ reader survey sheds light on these purchasing trends and how they relate to the current practice of public relations in all types of businesses.

Besides media monitoring and distribution services, public relations professionals today are buying research tools, such as on-line databases, equipment and programs for use in desktop publishing, and many other communications services. Of course, practitioners continue to handle media relations and schedule press conferences, but they are also the purchasing decision-makers or strong buying influencers for goods and services that go far beyond traditional press release monitoring and tracking.

Today's public relations executives are involved in purchasing virtually all services related to internal and external communications, marketing and advertising, a recent Public Relations Journal survey found. The survey tracked what types of services corporations and not-for-profit organizations are buying from public relations firms as well as purchases by the firms themselves. PRJ's latest profile of the purchasing power of public relations practitioners also explores their specialties and gives insights into the hottest practice areas.

Identifies new services

The world has certainly changed since PRJ's last published survey in 1988. Public relations professionals are more actively involved than ever in environmental affairs, crisis and issues management, strategic planning, special events and sports marketing. As in the past, corporations and other organizations with in-house public relations staffs frequently engage public relations firms to perform time-honored specialized services such as media training and speechwriting and often hire outside counsel to handle legislative/regulatory affairs or trade press relations.

Our latest survey was based on a scientifically drawn sample of PRJ's entire readership, including PRSA members and nonmembers. Globe Research Corp., an independent research company specializing in the magazine industry, conducted the survey of readers in two categories: public relations firms and other companies/organizations. Besides measuring respondents' buying habits, the study charted their activities, background and length of time in the public relations profession. The survey was mailed twice to 1,050 subscribers. There was a 58% response rate, with 300 firm practitioners responding and 306 "company" replies.

Survey respondents represented a variety of work settings and practice areas. More than 40% are employed by independent public relations firms. Respondents who work in other kinds of companies/organizations include those employed at industrial and technical concerns as well as suppliers of services, such as communications, media, retailing and real estate. One in six of these "company" respondents work in for-profit industrial manufacturing concerns. In the non-profit sector, 8% work in trade/professional associations and 10% in education.

Annual public relations expenditures of the companies/organizations represented in the sample averaged more than $2.5 million. About 25% spent more than $1 million annually on outside firms, activities, services, products and equipment for public relations purposes. At the high end, 6.4% spent more than $10 million annually, and just over 1% spent $25 million or more. Just over 72% of all company respondents spent at least $100,000 on public relations goods and services.

About half of the corporate group surveyed recommend using the services of an outside public relations firm. And almost 60% use more than one outside firm for that extra help. In many cases, functions were performed both within and outside the organization contracting for outside services.

The balance of the survey sample, those who work at "firms," include workers TABULAR DATA OMITTED in independent firms (44%), public relations departments of advertising, marketing or promotion agencies (16%), sole practitioners (19%), and others, including in-house agencies at corporations or non-profit organizations (11%). …