Digital PR spend increases significantly, but still not enough investment in training

Picture of Danny Whatmough saying "Investment in education and talent is the only answer to this challenge"

The PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report 2016 reveals a sharp rise in digital PR budgets, but continuing concern over the lack of investment in training. Depressingly the need for more investment in training was also one of the main findings of last year’s report.

The PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) worked with YouGov to poll 203 in-house and PR agency executives to find in-house digital PR budgets have risen by 9% in a year, with expectation they will grow further over the next 12 months. It’s the fourth annual Digital PR and Communications report the PRCA has produced.

The main reasons flagged by brands for not using digital/social more frequently are a lack of budget (46%) or a lack of staff (32%), rather than the board not understanding the need for it (11%).

Given that the report was commissioned by the PRCA it’s hard to know what to make of the finding that 45% of in-house respondents claim the majority of content for digital and social media activity comes from the PR and communications department, although this has dropped from 52%. In contrast 21% point to the marketing department (up by 5%), and 23% the social media team. This could simply represent the make-up of the survey base rather than anything more significant. I’d like to think PR was responsible for this much digital and social activity, but in reality I think in organisations not represented in the survey then more will be done by marketing.

The average (mean) percentage of marketing budget spent on digital and social media is 25%, which is up from 16% in 2015. In addition, most (62%) expect their digital budgets to grow in the next year. Most in-house spend is invested in video-based content (62%) with paid social media at 55% along with web design and build also at 55% (down 24% over the past four years).

I find it surprising that the most popular services clients buy from PR agencies are social influencer outreach (12%) and blogger outreach (9%), both of which are often better done by the in-house PR team. This might partially explain why 19% claim not to use their PR and communications agencies for any areas of digital and social.

More education and training needed to acquire digital PR skills

In-house PR and communications people say they need more education and insight around social influencer outreach/engagement (31%); social network strategy (27%); and digital crisis management (27%). The areas where PR agency people want more training are SEO (38%); paid search (30%) and paid social media activity (26%).

The majority of in-house comms people gain their social media education and insight from conferences and events (50%) and seminars and roundtables (50%), which has grown significantly by 18%. There is a 31% drop in the use of expert blogs (21%). For agency people, when asked about their three top sources for social media education, expert blogs are the most popular (64%); followed by conferences and events (44%) and external training courses (35%). Over half of agency people require more digital/social media training (53%).

What digital and social platforms do PR people use?

Over the last year, the in-house teams surveyed have seen the biggest growth in use of Instagram (14% growth) and Snapchat (14% growth).

Unsurprisingly, Twitter and Facebook remain on top, with 96% and 92% of in-house teams having used those platforms over the past year. The biggest in-house platform losers are Pinterest and Google+, with a drop of 14% and 11% in usage respectively over the past year.

In-house staff are more confident that they can measure the ROI of Digital PR (e.g. banner advertising, SEO etc) (73%) than traditional PR activities (65%). However, social media (i.e. organic and paid) only ranks at 65% confidence – equal that of traditional PR.

Facebook and Twitter rank highest for the confidence people have to measure their ROI (both 63%), followed by LinkedIn and blogs (both 44%). The lowest ranking is Foursquare at 4%.

For agencies, the leading campaign platforms over the past year are Twitter (95%); Facebook (89%); and blogs (83%). Facebook use has leapt from 77% to 89% in the past year.

Agencies expect Twitter to be the leading platform in the coming year, with 91% of them expecting to use it for their clients’ digital PR activity.

“Investment in education and talent is the only answer to this challenge”

“Encouragingly, we are seeing brands and businesses fundamentally buying into the need for digital and social investment,” said Danny Watmough, chair of the PRCA Digital Group and EMEA head of social at Weber Shandwick. “This shift is mirrored by a willingness to invest in a broader range of digital tactics that agencies are adapting to provide. The importance of video, paid social and influencer marketing comes particularly strong this year and it is positive to see the industry being responsive to demand but also the changing media scene.

“As ever, however, there is always more work to be done and there are some worrying indicators in the research this around the continued challenge the PR industry faces around proving that it has a role to play in a digital and social world. Investment in education and talent is the only answer to this challenge and these are areas that, as in previous years, need urgent attention.”

Digital PR training

If you’d like a confidential conversation about digital PR and social media training and development for your team then please contact me or give me a call on +44 20 3239 1093 for more information about the bespoke in-house programmes I offer and for details of forthcoming open courses that I’m running for the Institute of Internal Communications, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and other organisations overseas.