LONDON—Corporate chief executives are taking reputation more seriously, and companies are placing greater emphasis on corporate purpose, contributing to healthy growth for public relations in the corporate arena, according to the results of the ICCO World PR Report 2020.

While much of the industry’s focus in recent years has been on obtaining a greater share of clients’ marketing budgets, the new World PR Report suggests that there is still plenty of room for growth in the corporate reputation realm—an emphasis suggested by a client roundtable hosted by the Holmes Report in Cannes earlier this year.

The survey found that the largest number of PR agency clients are still senior corporate communications or corporate affairs executives (45%, compared to 32% who have marketing or brand titles), with an additional 16% of clients having C-suite titles and about 1% focused on government affairs.

Similarly, corporate reputation remains the most important objective for most clients (cited by 41%, compared to 35% who said clients were looking for product or sales objectives).

“CEOs continue to invest in corporate reputation, embracing the fact that their most valuable asset is their reputation,” says Francis Ingham, ICCO chief executive. “And this is true in every region of the world.” At the same time, he says, “The shift towards strategic advice is accelerating.”

There was widespread agreement with the idea that CEOs are taking corporate reputation seriously (7.0 on a scale of one to 10 globally), with respondents in Latin America (7.3) and North America (7.2) most likely to agree and respondents in Eastern Europe (6.2) and Africa and the Middle East (6.7) least likely.

The majority of respondents also agreed that companies are paying attention to corporate purpose (6.9). North American (7.5) and UK (7.4) respondents were the most likely to agree with this notion, with respondents in Eastern Europe (6.3) and Africa and the Middle East (6.1) the least likely to agree.

Sustainability and climate change was identified as the most pressing issue for companies to address (cited by 60% of respondents), ahead of diversity and inclusion (55%), education (31%) and data privacy (29%).

When asked which areas had growth most rapidly over the past 12 months, corporate reputation was ranked number one (cited by 42% of respondents), with strategic consulting (29%) in second place, ahead of social media and community management, marketing communications, multimedia content creation, and influencer marketing.

Looking ahead, 46% identified strategic consulting as one of the areas they expected to see most growth over the next five years, while 42% cited corporate reputation—again ahead of multimedia content creation (32%), marketing communications (28%), and social media and community management (28%).

Interestingly, given the expected growth in corporate reputation, only 20% of respondents said they expected to make increased investment in senior counsel over the next 12 months, ranking eighth on a list of 10 potential investment areas—although measurement and analytics ranked first on the list (37%) and research, insight and planning was fourth (31%).