Sharp Rise in Confidence for Global PR Industry

The ICCO Confidence Tracker, conducted in partnership with Question and Retain, reveals 75% of PR leaders are confident or very confident about the future of their agency. This is up from 64% in October, when confidence remained the same as the figure from August. The total of confident or very confident respondents was 38% in April, when the tracker began.

The latest survey, conducted between 8th and 10th December, followed news of effective vaccinations, and the tracker demonstrates a shift in sentiment as we look to the New Year. Only 7% said they were not very confident about the future of their agency, the lowest yet.

Reasons for confidence centre around new projects beginning and clients releasing previously frozen budgets. The booming technology sector is frequently cited, along with an active finance sector, as well as climate and environment projects coming back onto the agenda strongly.

Many PR leaders also cite digitalisation as a reason for expected success. Supporting clients with virtual and digital transition projects and helping companies augment their message for stronger online campaigns.

Francis Ingham, ICCO Chief Executive said:

“This year the PR industry has shown itself to be one of the worlds’ most resilient -able to adapt to unexpected change very quickly. However, the disruption hit agency confidence hard in April. The confidence trackers run by ICCO and the PRCA have monitored the steady but slow uplift in confidence over the year, as uncertainty persisted. To finish the year with such a sharp increase following news of effective vaccinations is a huge boost and excellent news to close the year with.”

ICCO Global Pulse Check reveals PR industry’s mental health in lockdown

Fewer than half of PR practitioners feel comfortable talking about mental health issues with HR or managers, a global pulse check from ICCO and Question and Retain reveals. However, 62% are aware of support available in their organisation, should they need it. More than half rate their work-life balance as quite good or excellent, and 86% are satisfied with the communication from their leadership under lockdown conditions. The average rating of respondents’ own mental health was 7.07/10.

View results here


Work-life balance

Reasons given for a positive work-life balance under current conditions tend to refer to reduced time spent commuting and greater flexibility to juggle work and childcare commitments; as well as the ability to enjoy personal interests and hobbies. Reasons for a negative work-life balance cite a difficulty to ‘switch off’ when working and living in the same space and thus working longer hours and dealing with increased stress. Some respondents noted the disconnect from colleagues resulting in a difficulty to work on creativity and new ideas.

Communication from leadership

Those satisfied with communication from their leadership cite regular team meetings, coherent emails communicating major changes from leaders, and weekly verbal updates from a CEO or Managing Director. Those less satisfied cite a lack of transparency on major decisions, often from a wider group or global fragmented company structure.

Personal mental health rating

As well as feeling isolated, those rating their own mental health as low refer to uncertainty and fear of losing their job; feeling taken advantage of; being vulnerable or burnt out; working long hours; as well as feeling guilty or anxious about ‘saying no’ to additional hours. Those ranking their mental health more highly refer to job security; having people to talk with; , having good personal coping strategies; feeling less burnt out with a reduction of work or without a commute; and greater flexibility as a result of working from home.

Support available

Respondents refer to free mental health helpline; online resources; and support from HR within their agencies as being readily available. 31% do not know of any support available in their agency.

Just under half of respondents would feel comfortable or very comfortable speaking about mental health issues with HR or a line manager, suggesting that whilst the support is available and policies are in place, a stigma persists.

The overall picture demonstrates that the impact of covid-19 is hugely varied depending on circumstance. A key lesson for agencies is to ensure that communication from the very top filters down through global offices, and to create conditions in which staff feel more comfortable talking about their issues to HR, a line manager or a dedicated officer within the organisation.

ICCO Chief Executive Francis Ingham said:

“Our industry is facing a period of incredible stress at every level, and in every region of the world right now. While agency heads are working hard to meet this challenge, it is hardly surprisingly that the results are not perfect -quite frankly, no response ever could be. But the encouraging thing I see is that leaders are rising to this challenge; acknowledging the inevitable issues; and doing their best to put their employees’ wellbeing right at the top of their agenda”

Nitin Mantri, ICCO President said:

“It is encouraging to know that most PR firms have prioritised the mental wellness of their people and invested in purposeful employee engagement. The results have also made it clear that the crisis will have a long-term impact on the way we work. Nearly 90% of the respondents have expressed satisfaction with their work-life balance because they are getting to save time on daily commute and are successfully juggling professional and personal commitments”.

Annabel Dunstan, CEO and Founder, Q&R, commented:

“Despite huge advancements in the way mental health is discussed over the past five years, our research continues to demonstrate that there is still a stigma making it more difficult than reporting a physical ailment. PR and communications’ leadership teams must continue to take a lead on reducing the stigma. Increasingly clients take note of their agency’s attitudes to mental health and employee wellbeing, which gives an additional incentive to make further progress.”










Covid-19: How consultancies are helping clients adapt to the new normal

Originally posted from Reputation Today

The Covid-19 pandemic is unstoppable. At the time of writing, the number of confirmed cases has crossed 400,000 and more than 18,000 deaths have been reported in 197 countries and territories. Its spread has impacted businesses around the world, sparking fears of a global recession. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has warned that the world’s economy could grow at its slowest rate since 2009 this year. Closer home in India, financial forecasters have cut India’s growth figures for the next financial year to 4 per cent from the 5.1 per cent estimated earlier.

In these fast-moving and uncertain times, communications has become a business critical need, and we’re seeing that play out in so many ways. Companies around the globe are obviously worried about how to protect their businesses. Not only do they have to insulate their business from risk, they must be quick to respond to customers and focus on the safety of their stakeholders across the spectrum. Most companies have not functioned during a pandemic, and therefore, they are underprepared to deal with its consequences. Crisis, however, is a PR mainstay. Having successfully navigated clients through crises like the 2008 financial situation, Ebola, HINI and SAARS, PR firms are well placed to respond to the new challenges we are currently experiencing. Most businesses are, therefore, pausing to reflect on their strategies and seeking support from PR firms to ensure that contingency plans are in place for their campaigns.

In any crisis, early communication is a must, and in a health emergency of this nature, brands need to prioritise customer and employee communications and effectively use multiple platforms to share accurate information. Brands are also uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on communities during a crisis if they stay true to their purpose and work closely with experienced and specialist communications firms. But to do that they need to act now because timing is everything during an emergency. Brands must, therefore, enlist their consultancies’ help to live up to their purpose and develop strategies that empathetically engage with multiple stakeholders, including government, customers and employees.

Many brands are already stepping up for the greater good of their customers and communities. Louis Vuitton and Pernod Ricard, for instance, will make hand sanitisers to tackle the shortage of anti-viral products across France and US. Tech giants Facebook, Apple and Salesforce have pledged to donate millions of masks to help health care workers facing a shortage of protective gear. Indian companies have also prioritised national need and taken effective action. Reliance Industries, Mahindra Foundation, ITC, Paytm, to name a few, have announced several measures, including ramping up mask production capacity and creation of funds to assist Covid-19 patients, to strengthen the government’s efforts to fight the disease. Closer to home, our own industry body, the PRCAI have been providing running an online campaign on social distancing and remote working and has written to the health ministry to support them in raising awareness on the Covid-19 situation.

It’s not just crisis comms where consultancies are creating solutions for companies. With almost all aspects of our clients’ businesses impacted, PR firms are brainstorming to get business continuity plans in place, meaning insuring we continue providing excellent service for our clients to count on. We are seeing a new normal with companies and their consultancies successfully shifting to online models. Pitches and campaigns have reduced but not petered out, they have just become digital initiatives.

Most firms have expanded their scope of work to help their clients communicate better. Further, consultancies are supporting clients with their employee comms, and travel and safety guidelines by ensuring that the messaging reflects the company’s values. Some are advising clients on scenario planning, media relations, and giving strategic counsel to ensure that their external and internal communications embrace an inclusive and empathetic mindset.

Consultancies are also curbing the spread of fake news in their clients’ eco system by providing credible, authenticated information in the form daily Covid-19 updates. This information is being provided to clients through emails or in the form daily newsletters. The information is helping clients authentically educate their stakeholders on the criticality of the situation and inform them about the steps taken to manage the situation, thus inspiring confidence in the company.

What’s next?

The coming weeks will be crucial for India in curbing the spread of the disease as numbers continue to rise steadily. As the government rolls out comprehensive and robust measures to contain the infection, brands and their PR firms need to work closely and take aggressive steps to keep their businesses going until we come out of this unprecedented situation. Companies that communicate transparently, ensure factual accuracy, and exercise empathy in these unusual and unsettling times will come out of this crisis with stronger customer connection.

Being Human In The Time Of Coronavirus

Maja Pawinska Sims, Associate Editor, PRovoke Media

The crisis is already taking a huge psychological toll on a communications industry made up of social, connected people.

“It’s all a bit weird, isn’t it?” Every conversation I have had over the past week or so seems to have started in this way: a measure of British understatement to help us handle a situation that, as we now know, is quite terrifying. Barely days ago, many of us working in the communications industry in the UK and the US were still kidding ourselves that it was, mostly, “business as usual”. How distressingly wrong, how ostrich-like and arrogant, that has turned out to be.

Even as a community of some of the most creative, agile, innovative people, the conversations I’ve had with PR professionals around the world show that the spread and evolving impact of the coronavirus is happening faster than we can psychologically process. No sooner have we adopted one brace position, than we have to shift to accept another new reality.

The timeline has escalated like nothing any of us have ever seen, in any lifetime. It’s not “just” a pandemic and it’s not “just” an economic crisis: in just one financial quarter, coronavirus has challenged the very foundations of modern life — the way we all work and play — and it’s proving extraordinarily difficult to deal with, in human terms.

In January, those of us in Western countries were distant observers of the virus, as news of its emergence in China reached us. When global business, political and NGO leaders gathered in the snowy mountains of Davos to talk about solving the world’s biggest problems, coronavirus was barely on the agenda. 

In February, we learned that Covid-19 had reached EMEA and was spreading particularly aggressively through Italy. In our industry, alarm bells only started to ring when “uncancellable” events attended by PR people and their clients started to drop, starting with Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, followed by SXSW.

At the start of March — just three weeks ago, but my goodness, doesn’t it seem like another lifetime already — most PR practitioners’ diaries in the UK and the US were still full of in-person meetings, lunches and events. 

Then the mood started to shift more markedly. Major marketing networks and many independents had announced they were shifting to home-based working. Stock markets plummeted. Schools and nurseries started to close. Supermarket shelves emptied and we witnessed, as elsewhere in the world, frantic hamstering as we sought to maintain the illusion of control. Practically every sports and music event due to take place before the summer — those great, joyous, gatherings of people, not to mention sponsorship cash and campaigns – was cancelled or postponed, even the mighty Olympics and Glastonbury. 

When Cannes announced it was delaying the Festival until the end of October, it brought home for many of us just what a long haul we’re in for.

Over the past few days, political leaders have become steadily firmer and more prescriptive and proscriptive, about where we can and can’t go, how we must live, work, shop and study now. For those of us used to a relatively light governmental touch, the new dynamic between state and citizen is proving challenging. Every daily briefing contains a new shock to our liberty. In the space of a couple of weeks, the lexicon has changed: barely a sentence is uttered that doesn’t include at least one of the “coronavirus bingo” terms: self-isolation, social distancing, panic buying, lockdown, quarantine.

So what will the impact of Covid-19 be on the human beings in the communications industry? For many, it will require a rapid stepping up of skills, since we’re all crisis communicators now, and while seasoned crisis management, corporate comms and public affairs practitioners may have an advantage in terms of expertise, the sheer scale and unprecedented nature of this issue means there’s not a PR pro in the world who has “been there, done that”. For some in particularly hard-hit sectors such as travel and tourism, entertainment, hospitality and retail, the situation may well prove overwhelming.

For leaders in the industry, from the heads of networks and in-house teams to the founders of independent agencies, there are already huge questions around how the crisis will affect their people. Heartfelt messaging around “the health and wellbeing of our people comes first” is reassuring, but how long before incredibly painful decisions need to be made? As the global economy tanks, it seems inevitable that — despite various government bailout schemes — in the coming weeks and months we’ll see agencies forced to impose paycuts, furlough staff, make redundancies and start to fail. The future of the huge number of freelance contractors working in PR is another question. Just how resilient will the industry, as businesses and individuals, turn out to be?

With best-guess scenarios all we have right now, the immediate focus has been on the day-to-day: the practical, technological solutions to working remotely and continuing to keep the industry functioning. After many of us spent the past decade avoiding video calls, within a week the entire industry has embraced them, wholeheartedly. Every meeting is now on Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Webex. Even if — as the coronameme goes — we’re four weeks from discovering everyone’s true hair colour, we’re all allowing access to the webcam, now. (There is also already a lively virtual social scene: with the click of a link, a novelty background and a real-life cocktail, we can still be in the room together.)

And if we’re craving seeing glitchy faces, eyes and smiles after a week (even with our kids wandering into the picture) how are the social creatures of communications going to cope long-term? If even high-functioning introverts among our community are feeling weirdly isolated, it’s going to be much, much worse for the extroverts. PR people are good at being together and sparking ideas off each other, whether a productive meeting of minds over coffee or lunch, networking at a reception or awards do or being controversial on a conference panel. There are many more friendships and working relationships based on mutual respect in this industry than combatants. What will we do for the next few weeks (or maybe months) with all that energy, without all those double air-kisses, laughter and verbal sparring, without the constructive, creative, inspiring chat?

Added to this, focusing on the job is hard. We’re concerned about our clients, but we’re also concerned about the elderly parents we can’t look after. We’re working alone in unfamiliar environments. Being a working parent was hard enough with childcare and an office to escape to: we have no idea how, when we’re all at home, we can simultaneously be good parents of children who need home-schooling but are missing their friends, or young enough to need constant supervision, let alone morph overnight into untrained teachers. And the background to the logistics is that we’re probably all at some point on the spectrum of anxiety, right now. Operating at peak effectiveness against a background of fear is almost impossible.

There’s already a huge conversation around mental health and wellbeing in the PR industry. My instinct after many conversations with some of the most robust people I know over only the past week or two, is that the mental health toll of our current predicament will be huge. Among all the lovely screen shots of agencies cheerfully doing their team video meeting in excellent hats, I’m not sure how we’re really going to cope long term. Isolation and physical distancing will hit us all, to a greater or lesser extent, and even the most resilient of us will feel more vulnerable for a huge variety of reasons.

The industry is rising to the occasion in recognising that it’s not business as usual in psychological terms, and agencies are being as creative as ever in making sure mental and physical health during quarantine don’t fall by the wayside, from Blurred providing daily online team exercise sessions to Newgate offering bitesize language classes. There’s also been a lot more checking in with each other over the past week. Work calls and emails are no longer just about work. Even with relative strangers, they now mostly include some human conversation. How are you doing? Are the family well? Isn’t home schooling challenging? Did you manage to find toilet roll this week? We’ve all started signing off with take care, or stay safe, and genuinely meaning it.

It’s been a tough time, already, and it’s going to get tougher. Many of us are struggling, before even factoring in that people we know and love may not survive Covid-19. But, as ever with the people in our industry, we will adapt to the new normal, and come up with great new ideas, new ways of working, and new ways of supporting our clients to be the best they can be in the new world order. As poet Emily Dickinson said: “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul – and sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all.”

Hang on in there. See you on the other side.

How to be an effective remote worker during the Coronavirus

By Emma Dale, Co-Founder | Managing Director (Asia), Prospect

It feels like every employee has been asking their employer for more flexible work arrangements and the chance to work from home. The Coronavirus is a key concern to us all and many firms in Hong Kong and China are implementing remote working / work from home policies. As such, whether we like it or not, our working arrangements over the next few weeks will likely be from our homes.

Many of us, in Hong Kong and China, live in relatively small accommodation which will present challenging conditions; particularly if children are also at home due to the school closures.

So how can we all work as effectively as possible at home?

1. Treat each day as a normal work-day. Set the alarm for your usual waking time: you will get more things done as you are not wasting time commuting. Maybe crank in some exercise or additional reading to help your Work Life Balance and wellness before you commence your work-day.

2. Dress as if you are heading out to work. No one wants to see you in your PJ’s should you have an impromptu zoom video meeting!
Think about using noise cancelling headphones to limit other home distractions and keep you focussed.

3. Create a working space at your home- try to have a dedicated area that is your work zone which is quiet and has limited distractions. If you have children, and they are at home all day, explain to them that this is your workplace. Establish boundaries and rules to minimise disruption.

4. Keep your work and personal time separate- this will help you remain productive during the core working hours and reduce stress when you aren’t ‘at work’.
Plan regular breaks as you would if you were in the office. Take the time to leave your screen and do something else.

5. Still commit to meetings with clients, partners and colleagues as these can be via zoom, skype or google hangouts. Using technology wisely will allow you to keep up momentum and move projects forward.

6. Have WhatsApp video calls with colleagues to catch up and feel as if you are working together. A career in PR/Communications is focussed around teamwork and brainstorming ideas. You can still do this by using technology effectively. Even if you all eat lunch over zoom will make you feel part of your team.

7. Use project management tools such as Trello so everyone is up to date with current projects and can see online how they are moving forward.

8. Over- Communicate! After all we work in the world of communications so remember to communicate verbally and in writing during your working day to feel connected with your team and check in with your boss. Without face-to-face access communication often flags, creating inefficiencies or, worse, loneliness and disengagement so make sure you over communicate to keep on track.

PR represented at ‘highest levels of European Government’ as ICCO joins Council of Europe

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) has been appointed an official Partner of the Council of Europe (COE) to help shape European policy on digital information and disinformation.

The induction – which took place at the Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg – will ensure the views of PR agencies are represented at the highest levels of European government.

Representatives from ICCO will attend quarterly meetings – alongside platforms including Google and Facebook, technology developers, as well as other industry associations- to support the Council’s efforts to promote respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the internet.

The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading human rights organisation, responsible for upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It includes 47 member states, 28 of which are members of the European Union.

ICCO Deputy CEO, Rob Morbin said:

“The Council of Europe’s decision to induct ICCO is a powerful endorsement of the strategic value of public relations. ICCO’s partnership with the Council is testament to the growing respect businesses and Institutions hold for PR and communications.

I’m proud that ICCO will play a prominent role in shaping the Council’s policy on digital information. Our members are responsible for the way in which information is communicated with the public; whether via social media, through the press, or directly from brand platforms. We are committed to implementing the necessary frameworks to ensure new technologies are used ethically.”

ICCO and COE representatives exchanged letters at the ceremony before attending a meeting on the Council’s workplan for digital activity in 2020. The discussion focused on four themes: Artificial Intelligence, Facial Recognition, Hate Speech, and Digital Literacy. ICCO will provide updates and consultation opportunities for its members going forward.

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Policy, Council of Europe said:

““We are pleased to welcome ICCO as a new partner to the Council of Europe, the expertise offered by their membership will prove valuable as we seek to create standards around new technologies, how they are used by business, and their impact on the public”

About ICCO
The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the voice of public relations consultancies around the world. The ICCO membership comprises associations representing 66 countries across the globe: from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and Australasia. Collectively, these associations represent over 3,000 PR firms.

WE & Hotwire Announced As First Platinum Partners For Cannes

WE Communications and Hotwire have been announced as the first agency partners for ICCO’s programme during the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this summer.

The event, PRovoke+ICCO@Cannes, is being led by PRovoke Media (the new name for the Holmes Report) and the International Communications Consultancy Association (ICCO). Other partners also confirmed so far include Allison+Partners, independent agency network The Network One and measurement and evaluation body AMEC.

The partnership centres on a two-day programme of content in a premium new venue, including panel sessions, podcasts, the PR Lions pre-awards reception, the annual PR Jury Insights panel session, and roundtables for network agency CEOs and independent agencies from around the world.

A previous communication may have implied this was an Official Cannes Lions venue and programme, which is not the case. Whilst ICCO are officially sponsors of Young PR Lions and all related activity, the programme with PRovoke is an unofficial venue.

Cannes Lions runs from 22-26 June 2020. For more information about how to get involved with PRovoke+ICCO@Cannes, please contact Maja Pawinska Sims and Rob Morbin.

Burson-Marsteller founder Harold Burson dies aged 98

The ICCO community is saddened to learn of the death of public relations pioneer Harold Burson.

Burson is widely recognised as one of the founding fathers of the PR industry, having begun his career in the 1940s and launched Burson-Marsteller in 1952. He was the first ever inductee into the ICCO Hall of Fame in 2003.

Commenting on the news, ICCO Chief Executive Francis Ingham said:

“Harold Burson was truly one of the fathers of the global PR industry. His passing is a very sad moment indeed, but also a moment to reflect on his contribution to the industry that he did so much to create. The dynamic, creative, innovative PR industry we see today owes so much to his work. All of us in PR owe Harold Burson a huge debt.”


PR Industry Partnership Unveiled For Cannes Lions 2020

The Holmes Report and ICCO are official fringe partners of the Festival of Creativity, including the Young Lions and PR-focused content.

ICCO have announced a partnership with The Holmes Report to lead the PR industry’s fringe programme at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2020.

The partnership will include a number of elements, including working with agency and supplier sponsors to create a two-day programme of content in a premium new location on the Croisette, podcasts with industry leaders, and hosting the official PR Lions pre-awards reception.

An evolution of the House of PR, our presence will be called PRovoke+ICCO@Cannes, incorporating the Holmes Report’s forthcoming rebrand as PRovoke in 2020.

It will feature regular elements such as the annual PR Jury Insights panel session – Weber Shandwick’s president and CEO Gail Heimann was recently announced as the president of the PR jury – and the prestigious CEO Roundtable for network agency leaders, chaired by Paul Holmes, as well as a new Indie Roundtable for leaders of independent agencies from around the world.

Holmes Report EMEA editor Maja Pawinska Sims said: “We’re elevating our presence in Cannes to reflect the broader earned media universe, and PR’s rightful place at its centre. We’re planning a provocative fringe programme of lively sessions, in the heart of the action, that really gets to grips with the future of communications.”

The partnership will also again be supporting the UK, Middle East and Southeast Asia Young Lions competitions within the annual festival showcase of the global creative stars of the future.

ICCO Chief Executive Francis Ingham added: “Our firm view is that PR agencies must come together internationally to demonstrate our creative might in Cannes. Our 2020 partnership will amplify the voice of PR at the festival.”

Cannes Lions runs from 22-26 June 2020. The first PRovoke+ICCO@Cannes sponsors will be announced at ICCO’s #CannesUncovered event on 29 January. Come along to find our more about visiting the festival and putting together an award winning entry.

For more information about entering the awards or marketing your agency at Cannes, please contact

Earlybird  Entries for Cannes Lions 2020 open 16 January, with a final deadline on 16 April