PRCA Digital PR Report 2015 need for more digital PR training and digital PR budgets expected to grow

The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has revealed the findings of its Digital PR Report 2015, with insights across the following key areas:

  • In-house budgeting for blogger outreach continues to grow and PR agencies increasingly entrusted with this work
  • Web design and build is a huge growth area for PR agencies as service is increasingly combined with PR
  • Huge expectation that digital budgets will grow over the next 12 months
  • In-house and agency staff alike do not feel they get enough training around digital

There aren’t any really radical or different findings revealed in the report. However, there are some interesting indications.

Quite rightly the PRCA says:

“Now more than ever, in-house teams surveyed see themselves as the owners of digital/social media strategy and execution, with agencies providing supporting roles.”

However, this is still at odds with what many PR agencies are actually doing with a lot still focusing on execution which in the short-term might be a good revenue earner, but in the long-term will decline for two reasons. Companies and brands can only be truly social if they do it themselves. Secondly it’s becoming commoditised. How much can you really charge for a junior person to post a few social media status updates and monitor what’s being said about you?

Public relations strategy needs to modernise to really ‘get’ digital PR and social media

I’d also like to dig down a bit deeper into what “owners of digital/social media strategy” actually means. It shouldn’t even need stating that the in-house team should ‘own’ the public relations strategy as it would be a reckless abdication of their responsibilities if they didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from external support. In my experience with working with both clients and hundreds of trainees from all around the world (some of whom are very senior heads of PR/comms for multi-billion pound companies) it’s apparent that their PR and digital agencies are often very good at doing stuff – the implementation. A lot of their PR agencies aren’t very good at challenging the client and helping them to improve their PR strategy by embedding social media and digital PR into their public relations strategy.

Too often what you see is fantastic, creative implementation, but I’m left with a sense of ‘why’? Why are they doing the glitzy social media and digital PR campaigns, but missing the fundamentals of actually modernising their PR strategy to really get the maximum value from social media and digital PR thinking and practices?

Often in-house PR teams are led by excellent PR professionals, however they are hampered by a lack of practical experience and hence real understanding of digital public relations. This is where PR consultancies (as opposed to simply agencies that ‘do’) can help. Unfortunately, it’s also where many agencies PR are weak.

Today most PR agencies have at least one person (and often many) who is an accomplished social media and digital PR practitioner. However, often this person lacks significant experience of really high level public relations and therefore can’t necessarily identify all of the challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed. And because the less experienced person is so ‘good’ at social media and digital it means the senior, more experienced person doesn’t feel the urgent need to get up to speed. This seriously hampers the PR agency’s ability to provide clients with high-level counsel, which is where they need it most as many clients are themselves becoming very good at the implementation as they are hiring exactly the same talent as the PR agencies.

Fails to nail the PR ROI myth

Another interesting finding was that:

In-house comms staffers surveyed remain marginally more confident that they can measure the ROI of traditional PR activities (72%) than they are for digital/social (67%); with the greatest degree of confidence in digital PR is around measuring ROI around Facebook campaigns (67%), and the least around LinkedIn (36%).

I very much doubt that the in-house communications team that are confident they can measure the ROI of traditional PR activities are actually right. They might and should be trying to improve how they measure the results and value, but that’s totally different to measuring return on investment which has such a specific meaning that it’s nigh on impossible to genuinely measure ROI of PR.

Digital PR training

It’s also alarming that so many in-house and agency PR professionals claim to get their ‘training’ from expert blogs. There’s no doubt you can learn a lot from the multitude of free sources on the internet, as well as the wealth of PR social media books you can buy. However, you can also learn a lot about how to be a star striker, tennis ace or racing driving from reading about it. It doesn’t make you Luis Suarez, Serena Williams or Lewis Hamilton. These people didn’t learn it from a blog. They practised and have trainers. It’s the same with digital PR and social media.

When asked to rate their top three, the majority of in-house comms people 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%). When asked which three things they need more education in, the biggest percentage of in-house comms people need more education/insight around blogger outreach (36%), while need for professional development around online advertising and PPC has grown by the most (7%) to (20% Vs. 13%).

For agency people, when asked about their three top sources for social media education, expert blogs are also the most popular, at 76%. There has been a drop in event-based training: conferences and events have dropped by 6% to 41%; and seminars and roundtables have dropped in rating by 16% to 27%. Half of agency people require more education/insight around SEO (50%).

For 35% of agency staff, training in digital/social remains to be a small amount of their overall training, only around 25%.

Other findings

Some of the other key findings of the report include:

  • When asked why their brands are on social media, in-house leaders surveyed are now far less likely than ever to point to negative reasons such as being attacked on social media (6%) and responding to disgruntled employees (4%); while the biggest reasons are for general marketing purposes (94%), speeding awareness of what they do (67%), and as a customer service platform (56%).
  • The mean percentage of marketing budgets spent on digital/ social media remains at 16%, the same as last year. Despite this, most (64%) expect their digital budget to grow in the next 12 months. Around 9% on average of any additional marketing investment is spent on social / digital, roughly equitable with last year, which was 11%.
  • The report reveals that in-house investment in influencer (e.g. blogger) outreach/engagement has seen growth of 11% over the past two years – from 41% in 2013, to 50% in 2014, and to 52% in 2015.
  • Meanwhile, investment in search engine optimisation (SEO) has dropped year-on-year from 67% in 2013, to 53% in 2015. Over the last two years, there has also been a significant and sustained reduction in marketing budget being spent on web design and build which is down by 24% (79% in 2013 and 55% in 2015). Both offerings appear to have become less of a standalone requirement.


YouGov partnered with PRCA to survey 280 agency and in-house PR professionals across business services, finance and banking, technology and telecoms, charities and NGOs, Government and other sectors. In-house respondents include directors of marketing/comms, heads of marketing/comms, head of press/PR. Agency respondents include CEOs, MDs, Partners and Directors.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. The total sample size in 2015 was 280 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th July and 14th August 2015. Total sample in 2014 was 228 adults, taken between 10th June and 9th July 2014. Total sample in 2013 was 136 adults, taken between 23rd September and 10th October 2013. The surveys were carried out online.

You can see the PRCA news release and full report on the PRCA website.

I am a member of the PRCA as well as being an elected member of the CIPR council and a founding member of the CIPR Social Media Panel. If you’d like to chat about some of the topics raised in this blog then please comment or get in touch directly.


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