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The PR industry has a data confidence problem, claims study

In a recent PRmoment Podcast W Communications founder Warren Johnson reviewed the UK agency market in the first half of 2023 and claimed that “UK PR had a strong start to the year… and there is now some preemptive belt tightening client side.” You can listen to the full interview here.

What is clear is that PR firms are having to work harder than they have for a while to retain their margin and meet their growth targets.

Which puts CoverageBook’s recent research into some context. The software firm's research included 420 PR practitioners across agencies, in-house and freelance levels. 91% of in-house PR managers said they would invest more budget with their agencies if they had more confidence in their data literacy skills.

Nearly all in-house professionals (91%) are willing to invest more in PR if they had confidence in agency data capability.

As such, data and analytics expertise is slowly being hired into the industry. Large global agencies such as Golin, H+K, and Ketchum have dedicated data teams - this isn’t the norm. In fact, 68% of PR firms don't have anyone in an in-house data role and 98% don't have an external measurement team.

The majority of PR pros do not have anyone in an in-house data role (68%), or an external measurement team (98%)

There is a huge gap between agencies that can afford or are willing to invest in data and measurement talent and teams that lack confidence.

Agencies must create a data culture

This isn’t the first time that PR practitioners have been asked to be more analytical. When Google prioritised earned links and recommendations as the main driver in search results, clients asked PR teams to add an SEO strategy to their offering. We’ve since seen a far-reaching increase in digital PR agencies taking advantage of the injection of budget into the industry.

This need to improve data literacy is no different.

It's not always easy for people with naturally high-performing right-side brains to tap into the left, more analytical side. But it is possible with the right support.

Agencies must create a ‘data culture’ and encourage curiosity and questions. This is something that’s anticipated to grow as nearly three-quarters of all managers and directors (71%) would be more likely to promote a junior member of the team with good data skills.

Despite a lack of confidence in their own data literacy, 62% of directors also lack confidence in their junior team's data literacy.  However nearly three-quarters of all managers and directors (71%) would be more likely to promote a junior member of the team with good data skills.

Vendors also have a part to play. Instead of relying on inflated reach figures, credible metrics that are useful in marketing such as estimated coverage views and domain authority can help PR teams enter into a position of strength. It’s also worth noting that simple metric explanations and data communication training is deeply needed as over half (57%) of PR professionals lack confidence in their data literacy skills.

57% of agency and freelancer PR's lack conidence in their personal data literacy skills

The fact that nearly half of PRs (44%) admit to presenting a metric they didn't understand is not okay. Let’s increase data literacy and uplift confidence in all PRs abilities.

Half of PR practitioners admit to presenting a metric they did not fully understand to a client

Written by Stella Bayles, director of CoverageBook

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