WEDNESDAY 1 NOV 2017 4:20 PM


It’s no secret that digital is helping evolve the PR and communications industry. Year by year the industry is influenced by, digital; year by year, new trends emerge and the promise of industry revitalisation through digital is present. But just how influential is digital in shaping the future of an industry beset by all manner of changes and adaptations?

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has revealed the findings of its Digital PR and Communications Report 2017. Produced in partnership with international market research company YouGov, the report benchmarks PR industry performance in the digital communications sphere.

Despite continual mixed feelings about its use and relevance to the PR and communications industry, social media is an area of digital with the most potential impact on forging and cementing both business and customer relationships. To that end, maintaining active social media accounts remains paramount for many practitioners, with 85% of those in-house surveyed citing it as key in driving awareness, and 73% saying social media is instrumental in increasing brand awareness.

The same amount, 73%, said social media helped drive audience reach – yet responsibility for social media accounts remains contentious. Around 45% of in-house respondents say their organisation’s PR and comms department produced the majority of digital and social media content. However, a fairly high 27% of respondents said the marketing team had sole responsibility for the social media accounts, a figure up from 21% in 2016 and 13% in 2013. Only 18%, down from 23%, acknowledged their company as having a social media team specifically for heading up its digital accounts. Perhaps these findings are indicative of the wider trends experienced by PR and comms practitioners, whereby the profession is being increasingly cross-departmentalised and integrated into other communications-driven teams.

Another interesting development is the allocation of digital and social media budgets, and what in-house teams are prioritising across their online channels. Unsurprisingly, given its continued proliferation as a communications channel, spend was largely on video-based content – for 57%, this is a key area. However, with 53% spending budgets on image-based content and a further 51% on online advertising, the report suggests power of accessible, interesting content is confined not just to moving image. Clearly the more traditional methods of conducting business, albeit conducted in a digital-first manner, retain their importance.

Conversely, the 2017 report indicates that use of image-based sharing sites has dropped fairly dramatically. Use of the ever-popular Instagram by in-house teams has dropped from 65% to 53%, with Snapchat usage also dropping from 20% to 14%. At 93% and 75%, Twitter and and Facebook respectively are the most popular social media platforms among clients.

The last five years has seen a widespread cutting of budgets into individual service areas. Community management is down by 26%, monitoring by 28%, web development and build by 30% and SEO by 21%. Budgets are being stretched; teams are cutting in the areas with a lesser short-term effect – but there’s no telling the longer-term outcome this might have on overall yield.

Danny Whatmough CMPRCA, chairman of the PRCA Digital Group and head of social, EMEA at global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, says, “We live in complex times. We are now marketing and communicating in a digital world and that requires both in-house professionals and agencies to change the way they work. That means over the next 12 months we will see more talk of integration and collaboration in the content creation space.”

The PRCA’s report indicates many clients feel more education is needed in the areas of social influencer outreach (27%), video-based content (23%) and SEO (23%). In 2017, the interest in gaining more education in monitoring and listening to customers increased from 10% to 21%. Key to continual growth and industry innovation, the time might be ripe for in-house teams and agencies across the PR and communications sphere to reinvest budgets into training and optimising their teams to action, monitor and respond to digital challenges as the world becomes more connected.

Whatmough continues, “We will see a movement away from traditional offerings such as web build and a move towards chatbots, social messaging and AI. The Digital PR and Communications Report shows that the PR industry is leading the charge in many areas, but this is not a time for complacency. The industry needs to continue to evolve to compete.”

The PRCA’s Digital PR and Communications Report 2017 is sponsored by London-based agency Richmond & Towers.