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Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 06:30 p.m.

How has strategic communication evolved in Europe in the last 15 years?

The 2023 edition of the European CommunicationMonitor presents unique findings on the most important topics for communication management, analyzed over more than a decade, and identifies five key areas of action for communication leaders. This research has been carried out by leading European universities in communication, with Professor Ángeles Moreno from the URJC as the responsible researcher in Spain.

Writing / Irene Vega

Increasing trust and ensuring strategic alignment continue to be the main challenges of strategic communication in Europe, according to the new edition of the European CommunicationMonitor (ECM), the longest-standing empirical study on the present and future development of strategic communication and public relations. This research is based on surveys of some 40.000 professional communicators from 50 countries.

The 2023 edition has been carried out by a research group from five leading communication universities in Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom, Slovenia and Norway. The results draw from 15 years of studies and identify key areas of action for leaders to direct communication toward future successes. “This forecast is based on longitudinal empirical results from the ECM with the most current scientific bibliography, and are specified in theses for communication leaders, which inspire reflection and debate,” the researchers point out.

The ECM is an academic study that meets the high quality standards required in social science research, designed and developed by a changing group of researchers from renowned communication universities. In addition, it has parallel studies in North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific, coordinated by Professor Ansgar Zerfass - under the umbrella of the Global Communication Monitor- and with Ángeles Moreno from the Rey Juan Carlos University as the lead researcher in Spain and founder of the Latin American chapter.

What is it that does not let communicators sleep?

The ECM has tracked the rise and fall of the strategic issues most important to communicators since 2007. Unique longitudinal results across Europe show how communicators began paying attention to certain issues, how they stopped prioritizing some over time, and how others got off the ground again or held their ground as key strategic issues.

The study reveals that there are two strategic themes that have been constantly on the minds of communicators and that will continue at least until 2025: building and maintaining trust and linking corporate strategies with communication strategies. The trust given by stakeholders -interest groups- to organizations is a valuable intangible resource, which is often based on communication activities. Research on prospecting business models for communication departments, such as using measurements and evaluations to continue improvement, and evaluating communication practices offers many solutions today, but probably have not yet reached professional practice.

The expectations of the stakeholders Sustainability and social responsibility have also been a concern of communicators in Europe. However, it lost importance between 2008 and 2022 to rise again today among the top three strategic themes. A similar volatility, but at a higher level, affects the assessment of the challenges and opportunities related to the intensified speed and volume of information flow in a digitalized and globalized world. Furthermore, the study highlights the importance that one in four respondents had identified algorithmic communication as a key strategic issue in 2016, that is, six years before ChatGPT took off.

Key results and success factors for the next decade

The ECM 2023 report identifies five areas that will shape the future of strategic communication and need special attention, based on further evaluation of empirical data and the latest research. One of them is the need to direct and motivate extraordinary communication teams. Excellent communication depends on advances in technology, media, and trained professionals – but it also depends on diverse teams that encourage collaboration and innovation. The ECM and its parallel studies on other continents have investigated these aspects in detail to identify the drivers of success. Ángeles Moreno, professor of Communication and Public Relations Direction and Management at the Rey Juan Carlos University, declares: “Leadership makes a difference in communication. “It should be a priority to educate, mentor and promote leadership skills to retain talent in collaborative, engaged and DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion) teams to promote these changes also in the organizations themselves and those of clients.”

Furthermore, the study highlights that the potential of digitization and the use of data must be harnessed. Ansgar Zerfass, professor and director of the Department of Strategic Communication at the University of Leipzig (Germany), states: “Communication leaders have never before had to face such great opportunities and risks at the same time. He CommTech, big data, and artificial intelligence-based services can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational communication, but they also threaten the business models of communication departments and agencies.”

As a success factor, the report also points out that it is important to develop exceptional competencies and new professional roles. Managing and executing strategic communication in a global and mediated world is a complex task. Few professions are changing so quickly. The movement towards engagement Through multiple media platforms, the use and management of large data sets and the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) require new skills. “The ECM highlights roadmaps for developing the next generation of high-performing communicators who are equipped to respond to future business, environmental and social demands,” says Ralph Tench, Professor and Director of Research at Leeds Business School in Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom.

Reaching and impacting audiences in a hyperconnected world and building relationships in times of misinformation and mistrust are the other two areas that are included in ECM. “The digitization of communications is leading to their dataification and strategization. Social media and social networks, almost always used via smart phones, make up current omnichannel communication. We are witnessing a fusion of communication disciplines in organizations and a hybridization of formats in the media,” says Dejan Verčič, professor of Public Relations at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). Regarding false information and disinformation, the challenges faced by communicators have also been raised. “Overcoming various forms of information disorders is a priority issue today for many people, including strategic communicators trying to build and maintain trust in their organizations. As new artificial intelligence platforms and tools exacerbate these challenges, the search for ways to achieve engagement purpose-oriented and authentic stakeholders It will occupy professionals and researchers alike,” emphasizes Alexander Buhmann, professor of Corporate Communication at the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo (Norway).

Currently the core team is made up of Ansgar Zerfass (Leipzig University, Germany), Ángeles Moreno (University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Spain), Dejan Verčič (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia), Ralph Tench (Leeds Beckett University, UK), and Alexander Buhmann (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway). This non-profit project is formally organized by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), with the main support of Cision together with CECOMS, #NORA, and Fink & Fuchs.

About the study organizer and new research design in 2024

La European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) is an autonomous organization with almost 500 members from 40 countries. Its main mission is to promote and promote innovation in knowledge, research, education and professional practice of strategic communication. Through its members from universities and other institutions, EUPRERA is a high-profile global leader in transnational research projects and networks.

The ECM 2023 report concludes the successful cross-national phase of this study based on an extensive quantitative research design. The project will begin its next phase in 2024 with a new, more focused and advanced research design, which will be announced later this year.