Digital agencies and in-house teams are continuing to expand the digital services they offer, but more investment is needed in both budgets and training if the PR industry is to make the most of the opportunities that the digital revolution offers. These are some of the findings of the third annual PRCA Digital Report, produced in partnership with YouGov. Danny Whatmough, head of social, EMEA at PR firm Weber Shandwick and chair, PRCA digital group, says: “The challenges for agencies and in-house practitioners are clear. Now is not the time to meander along. We need to be in a restless state of constant innovation.”
The good news is that agencies are continuing to expand the services they offer – 54% offer SEO services, 82% offer blogger outreach/ engagement, 47% offer online ads/PPC, and 76% offer online reputation management. But as Whatmough says: “It’s a tough balance – offering everything you think you need to in order to be able to serve clients, but also not stretching yourself too thin. The need to bring more specialists into our industry is something that has been echoed loud and clear in the various debates we’ve held around the research across the UK this week.”
A key challenge for the PR industry is getting the money it needs for digital. Whatmough discusses how frustrating this is: “When it comes to budgets for digital, the statistics from in-house teams – 16% of budgets dedicated to digital – are static from last year. This seems confusing at a time when digital is clearly thriving with, seemingly every day, brands and businesses talking about how they are shifting spend from above the line.”
Discussing why budgets are still an issue, Whatmough says: “I suspect the issue is in the question. How do you split out digital revenues these days? What is digital and what isn’t digital? In fact, surely it is the best possible outcome if we are unable to specify exactly where digital budgets start and stop. The oft-cited nirvana of pure marketing integration is perhaps finally upon us.”
As well as lack of financial resources, another problem is lack of training. The study finds that when asked to rate their top three, the majority of in-house comms people say they gain most of their social media education and insight from expert blogs (52%), although there is 12% growth in use of expert white papers since last year (from 17% to 29%). Whatmough comments: “Whilst I am not demeaning the importance and quality of industry blogs, if we want to be regarded as a serious profession, then we need to ensure that we are training our people in the best possible way. Especially when it comes to digital.
“And yet there are clear challenges. Digital – and social in particular – moves so fast. I counted a day a few weeks ago when the four big networks announced a total of 12 big new feature updates. That’s a lot to stay on top of. But if we really want to continue to create the best digital and social work for our clients, brands and businesses, then we need to take training seriously.”
However, looking at the complete findings of the study, Whatmough remains positive: “Overall, as in previous years, I’m genuinely encouraged by the findings of the 2015 research. Whilst PR has, in the past, sometimes been accused of not staying with the times and falling behind in crucial areas, digital PR is flourishing.”
YouGov partnered with PRCA to survey 280 agency and in-house PR professionals, across a wide range of sectors from finance to charities.
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