PRCA Digital PR Report: The findings, and what they mean for the PR industry

  • 1
  • September 11, 2014
Eve Eastwood

Eve Eastwood

Last night, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Public Relations Consultants Association Digital PR Report launch. The PRCA partner with YouGov, to generate statistics on the in-house and agency opinions of digital PR. This year, 228 senior agency and in-house professionals took part in the survey, which generated some extremely interesting research.

The evening was structured firstly with a run-down of the key statistics generated, and then a general Q&A with Simon Shaw, Chief Creative Officer at H&K;  Vikki Chowney, Head of Things with Wings; Jon Silk, Director at Bite; and Danny Whatmough, Chair of the PRCA’s Digital group.

Firstly, on a personal note, I always find attending these events eye-opening. They are usually, as this one was, dominated mainly by traditional PR agencies just breaking into digital. Working solely in digital PR myself (although my background is primarily traditional), I always find it very interesting to hear the traditional viewpoint on practises that have come to be second nature working at Branded3.

The disparity between traditional and digital

“Digital PR is so much more than that. It’s not just about pushed promotion, it’s about getting your client talked about naturally in the right places, by the right people, at the right time.”

The launch proved the highly recognised fact that there is a growing need for traditional PR professionals to embrace digital. The two main focal points of digital PR discussed at the launch were social and paid media.

However, digital PR is so much more than that. It’s not just about pushed promotion, it’s about getting your client talked about naturally in the right places, by the right people, at the right time. The only difference being that these conversations are happening online, and aren’t just static conversations in a print publication.

Digital PR allows your coverage to be commented upon, shared and physically interacted with, and the process of this far bypasses social and paid media only. Coverage becomes mouldable and adaptable, and this is due to high authority, natural placements.

It’s understandable why the traditional PR industry is tentative about taking the brave step into digital, but really, it’s much of the same. You still have the same relationships with journalists, and the same processes of contacting press, but for online coverage, as well as offline.

In a passing statement, it was said that ‘we could all build an app in five minutes on our phones’, and that ‘you don’t need a digital agency, you need people that are digitally literate’. Now I can safely say three things about these two statements.

  1. I could not build an app in five minutes on my phone.
  2. If I did, by some miracle, build an app in five minutes on my phone, I am quite sure than none of my clients would want to even look at it, let alone put their name to it.
  3. Surely you will find people that are digitally literate, working at a digital agency.

Working in an agency, traditional or digital, the end goal is the same. Keep your clients happy. It is our job to create the campaigns that are suitable for them, and get the best possible results that we can. So, if a client wants a heavily development-led application to drive brand awareness and interaction, so be it. If a client wants to be featured in Cosmo and Femail to directly reach their target audience in a traditional sense, that’s fine too.

Traditional and digital are crossing paths, and the skills and knowledge bases of each discipline are transferrable between one and the other. So, whether traditional or digital activities are required, the two are becoming ever more jointed due to the rise of digital PR, and eventually, all will have to learn to be digitally literate to ensure clients are receiving full benefits from their PR coverage.

The need for thorough digital training

“69% of PR professionals claimed to receive their social media education from expert blogs”

I think that a lot of the time, the apprehension towards moving into digital isn’t due to digital PR, but to the big bad world of SEO. Which isn’t big and bad at all once you’ve grasped the basics. SEO is becoming increasingly reliant on digital PR, and to understand one, you have to grasp the basics of the other.

70% of agency staff surveyed for the PRCA report stated that the proportion of digital training they receive is small to moderate, and the most popular response for the training that people said they needed was SEO, with 49% claiming to need it more than any other kind of digital training. Kind of proves my point. For the PR industry to grow, agencies and in-house teams need to invest in thorough training schedules, to ensure that staff feel comfortable with digital, and the impact it has on SEO.

Interestingly, 69% of PR professionals claimed to receive their social media education from expert blogs. Without a proper training structure in place, people are finding their knowledge online. This demonstrates the need for a proper understanding of digital as a whole. The demand for digital PR and SEO tutoring is there, but this demand isn’t yet being met for employees in the traditional sphere.

44% of organisations spend only 1-10% on digital/social media. However, 62% reported that these digital budgets have risen in the past twelve months. I think we’d all agree that digital PR is growing rapidly – I would be willing to make a very educated guess that we will see that this first statistic has risen drastically by the time of next year’s digital PR report. Simon from H&K gave a fantastic quote at the end of the launch, saying “Digital is like a train thundering through a valley – you have to get on that train.” This is something that the traditional PR world is doing, and is having to do fast, hence the growing demand for proper training.

At Branded3, we offer digital PR training and introductions to SEO for PR’s, which are both extremely useful for traditional PR professionals wanting to further their digital knowledge. Interestingly, it’s also a service that’s in growing demand from our clients. It’s not only PR professionals that are recognising the need to understand digital, but clients too.

In-house vs Agency

“The top three aspects that companies look for in a PR agency are content creation, blogger outreach and digital crisis management.”

Going back to agencies, the top three aspects that companies look for in a PR agency are content creation, blogger outreach and digital crisis management. The first two are key when it comes to a comprehensive digital PR offering, your content has to be good enough to attract coverage, and be picked up by relevant journalists and bloggers, which is where the blogger outreach comes in.

However, the third I found extremely interesting. That in a crisis, organisations would rather look externally to get their online crises solved. This is compared to a massive 81% that agreed that an in-house communications department are their go-to team to deliver a digital and social strategy. So, organisations would rather develop their strategies in-house – yet look to agencies to solve the issues that occur when these strategies get out of hand.

The growing topic of paid media

A recurring theme throughout the launch was the increase in demand of paid media within PR agencies. There was some slight apprehension in terms of paid media, as expected, and the concerns of organisations not buying into the positive influences that paid media can have.

To the traditional world, paid media is somewhat of a foreign concept, which has forced its way in through social media promotion. The very pinnacle of traditional PR is natural coverage and print mentions. However, digital and social media grew, as did the benefits of social campaigns, then – here came paid social seeding. It’s a way of gaining traffic, clicks and impressions through paid means, and I think that the concept of paying for something has been difficult for traditional PR professionals to understand, and the clients of traditional PR teams even more difficult to grasp.

At Branded3, obviously, our assets are digital. So, where relevant, we promote these on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Taboola and Reddit to increase the visibility of these assets. Also, some of our campaigns are built around online games or quizzes, and we may capture the data of these assets to give us statistics that we can analyse and send to journalists and bloggers at the end of the campaign. In this way, paid media allows us to increase interaction with an asset, with the end product being a great piece of research generated in an engaging way.

At one point, it was mentioned that it couldn’t be understood how a push via paid media could outweigh the thousands of pounds generated by working with BuzzFeed or Stylist. However, not every piece of content or asset created is suitable for BuzzFeed or Stylist. If your asset could gain three times the amount of impressions it would have had without a paid push, then surely, what’s usually an extremely small expense, is worth it.

The usefulness of paid media to a campaign’s results needs to be analysed before it’s implemented. Sometimes it’s extremely beneficial, sometimes not so much. It should be used on a campaign-by-campaign basis, and if the benefits outweigh the costs, then it’s simply another way of getting your asset seen by the right people in the right places.

In conclusion…

An audience member asked this question to the panel, “What do you think the PR professionals of the future will have to be?” The answer was to be a broad thinker, with a wide breadth of knowledge. To be able to lead on one aspect at a deep level, as at the minute, there’s a multi-skill attitude to be able to do everything, but not properly specialise in anything.

I think that this highlights the opinion that’s clear at the moment, that you either have to be a traditional PR professional taking steps towards digital, or you have to be a digital PR professional. The two overlap very easily, however stereotypically, you’re either one or the other. The fact that both can learn from one another is being overlooked. Offline creates online, and the PR industry is heading further and further into digital and its importance to SEO. As previously said, now’s the time to get on the train, blend traditional PR skills with the knowledge of digital, and create the kinds of PR activity that can be appreciated from both an offline, and an online perspective.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the PRCA for such a great and insightful event – looking forward to seeing how the statistics have moved forward this time next year!