The always-erudite Economist magazine recently featured an article detailing the growth of the American public relations business this past year – in contrast to falling revenues in marketing and advertising. The Economist folks attribute this boost to a number of factors, including: a spate of high-profile corporate scandals; the explosion of social media; and, PR’s expansion into specialized fields like web projects and event management. An interesting side theme in the article is the increasing blurriness between PR, advertising, web firms and other agencies as evolving technology – notably the boom of social media and online commerce – forces consultants to stake out new ground and learn or buy new capabilities.
From my perspective, what’s missing in this analysis is the strong demand for counsel and support for internal communications. All of the developments listed by The Economist are also relevant for employee audiences – particularly the increasing use of digital technology to help communication and collaboration within organizations. In many cases, the corporate intranet is at the nexus of these discussions, and often becomes the main platform for information-sharing and networking. And much like the external side of PR, lines are blurring between departments that historically defended their fiefdoms – such as Human Resources, IT, Legal and communications. Presumably this collaboration has been turbo-charged by the lingering recession, which resulted in millions of lost jobs in the U.S., and created even more need to keep the best talent. Informal discussions with my peers in the communication business suggest there is increasingly robust demand for consultants who can help companies leverage the new technology to more effectively inform and engage their employees. Given the dramatic gap in technological savvy and appetite for progress across companies, I don’t see that changing in the near future.