European communication departments and agencies still struggling to reach digital maturity; video-conferencing is rapidly taking off in stakeholder communications; advisor and coach roles may open up new opportunities for communicators

The 2021 edition of the world’s largest study into strategic communication and public relations has been launched today. The European Communication Monitor surveyed more than 2,600 professionals in 46 countries, producing the following highlights:

  • Digital transformation is in progress, but few communication departments or agencies have reached maturity – 39.2 per cent of practitioners across Europe describe their unit as immature in both digitalising stakeholder communications and building digital infrastructure
  • Video-conferencing is here to stay – it is more frequently used for communication with employees and clients than with journalists and less valued by stakeholders in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe
  • Practitioners take on different roles simultaneously in their daily work – a trend to watch is the Advisor role who helps top management make better business decisions
  • Professionals working in excellent communication departments are more engaged in coaching or advising executives and colleagues at all levels of the hierarchy
  • There are significant differences between countries as well as companies and non-profits across Europe
The full report is available for free at

Brussels, 21 May 2021 – The results of the European Communication Monitor 2021 have been presented today in a launch event organised by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD). This year’s edition of the world’s largest survey of the communications profession is based on interviewing 2,644 communication professionals from 46 European countries, providing valuable insights for public relations, corporate communications and public affairs.

As well as digital transformation of communications as the main topic, the survey explores the use of videoconferencing for stakeholder communications and changing roles of communicators when helping to create value for their organisations or clients. Salaries, key strategic issues as well as the characteristics of excellent communication departments have all been researched with more detailed analysis for 22 countries. A strict selection of participants, a unique research framework based on established theories, and statistical analyses fulfilling academic standards are key features of the study which has once again been conducted and supported by a team of renowned communication professors from universities across Europe.

Professor Ansgar Zerfass, lead researcher of the survey and Chair Professor at Leipzig University, explained: “Communication leaders are looking ahead to the time after the pandemic. There will be neither a return to the old familiar nor a new normal that reflects today’s practices. Instead, communications will be transformed by digitalisation on all levels and the pressing need to show its contribution to value creation. Communicators should be aware of key challenges and contribute to organisational success by enacting new roles.”

Kim Larsen, Head of Group Brand Marketing and Communications at Danske Bank and President of the European Association of Communication Directors, added: “Change is constant and communicators must be able to adapt as the world starts to transition from crisis to recovery. The digital transformation of communications helps to address these challenges. We need to strengthen our ability to integrate software into our workflows and use digital tools in our teams as well as for engaging stakeholders. Change always comes with lots of opportunities. This edition of the European Communication Monitor (ECM) helps to reflect upon some of them.”

CommTech and digital infrastructure

The results of the 15th edition of the European Communication Monitor show that introducing software and digital tools is a necessity and a huge challenge at the same time. A vast majority of practitioners across Europe highlight the importance of digitalising stakeholder communications (87.7%) and building a digital infrastructure to support internal workflows (83.9%).

The current level of digital maturity, however, is often disappointing. Three out of four communication departments and agencies are quite experienced in using external digital platforms for stakeholder communications and in providing collaboration platforms for their team members. But only a minority is considered mature when it comes to providing digital tools for support activities that are specific for communications like managing digital assets. Overall, digital maturity differs significantly across types of organisations: joint stock companies are clearly ahead and governmental organisations are lagging behind.

Video-conferencing for stakeholder communications

The pandemic essentially forced many communicators in a lot of instances to rely on video-conferencing. The pressing question remains about its application in a ‘post-Covid’ world. Interestingly, while most also expect significant pressure within their organisations to continue the use of video-conferencing (73.5%), fewer can see their organisation actually offering continued support for such formats (62.0%). This signals some interesting future tensions between the necessity to consider extant stakeholder practices, preferences, and expectations and organisational-level support and demands.

This study suggests that video-conferencing is here to stay. Three out of four practitioners intend to use it for stakeholder communications, even when the pandemic is over. However, country comparisons show striking and highly significant differences in the continuing acceptance of this technology across the continent, with comparatively less approval in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

Future roles for communication professionals

Communicators have a wide variety of tasks, ranging from aligning communication strategies and managing teams or departments to coaching employees in professional communication or advising top managers in decision-making processes. The results reveal that all respondents take on different roles simultaneously in their daily work. Based on a five roles framework, the traditional Communicator role is enacted extensively by the largest portion of professionals (42.8%), followed by the Manager role (31.1%), while less respondents spend a substantial share of their worktime as a Coach (27.7%), Advisor (26.2%) or Ambassador (23.7%).

More than half of the surveyed practitioners expect that Coach and Advisor roles will rise in importance in the next three years. Both roles are often enacted simultaneously. Communicators who perform the Advisor role most often advise top managers or heads of other departments on strategic business decisions. These advisors often have more than 10 years of professional experience and they have received specialised training in management concepts and strategic decision-making.

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Press contact for interviews and more information

Professor Dr. Ansgar Zerfass
Leipzig University, Germany
Lead Researcher
Phone: +49 178 413 911 2

Angela Howarth
Board Member, EACD, London, UK
Phone: +44 797 631 206 0

Editor’s notes
About the European Communication Monitor 2021

The European Communication Monitor is annually organised by the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA) and the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD), supported by premium partner Cision Insights, digital communications partner Fink & Fuchs, and regional partners #NORA in the Nordic countries and CECOMS in Italy. The Global Communication Monitor series is known as the most comprehensive research in the field worldwide covering more than 80 countries – the European survey is complemented by bi-annual surveys in other regions like Asia-Pacific, Latin and North America.

About the survey organisers

European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA)

The mission of EUPRERA is to enhance and promote innovation in the knowledge, research, education and practice of strategic communication. Through its membership of universities and other research associations and bodies, EUPRERA is a global leader on high profile transnational research projects and networks. More than 200,000 scholars and practitioners can potentially be reached through its extended communication channels and partnership arrangements.

European Association of Communication Directors (EACD)

The EACD aims to attract, inspire and engage current and future communication leaders to drive excellence in the profession. It offers communication professionals a platform to connect, deepen their expertise, share best practice, establish and promote relevant standards. The EACD is a vibrant community with regional debates and working groups across Europe. The association has currently approximately 2,000 members.