The launch of the PRCA’s Digital PR and Communications Report tells a story of the PR industry seeing revenue growth through content creation, but potentially struggling with measuring results and using online advertising.

The report has become an industry barometer to gauge integrated work being delivered by PR in-house and agency teams. It’s sponsored by Richmond & Towers and produced in partnership with YouGov, based on 362 agency and in-house PR professionals’ responses, including CEOs and MDs.

Nothing better than a fresh digital report accompanied with a beer.

Within hours of the report launching, two of the shock statistics were covered in PR Week and the Holmes Report. PR Week published that brands are backing down from social media due to fears of online attack, based on a statistic that revealed 12% of respondents saying that they ‘fear of attack from campaigners’ as a reason for not using social media. Homes Report led with that confidence in the ability to measure digital PR dropped to 63%, down 10% year-on-year.

There is a third shock from the report that hasn’t yet become a headline; for agencies Instagram use is down 12% and Snapchat is down 6%.

Unfortunately, the report only deals with quantitative reporting rather than qualitive, so we can only speculate for why this may have happened:

· Could it be linked with a lack of confidence to use social advertising?

· Are these channels being managed elsewhere (perhaps in-house)?

· Is this part of a larger symptom that many companies struggle to tell a visual story?

Whilst usage for both these channels have dropped, “71% and 43% of agencies said they would be using these platforms in the next 12 months.” Sometimes you’ve got to admire the optimism of agencies to all respond positively! Sadly, there is no obvious reason given to why usage is expected to increase, other than companies are increasingly trying to integrate traditional PR activities.

On the other hand, Twitter and Facebook continue to be the most popular social networks for agency clients, with 93% and 75% using the networks. Without a doubt, it’s easy to see why both these social networks reign as Facebook’s immense reach covers huge sections of the world’s population, and Twitter’s transparency makes researching their data accessible. This did create a little bit of debate at the London launch event.

Concerns were raised that PR practitioners may be picking the channel before the audience, opting to use Facebook or Twitter because it’s more accessible than heavily visual platforms like Instagram or Snapchat. In addition, there is an awkward truth around social media research as Twitter data tends to feature highly because of their openness, meaning online reports commonly feature Twitter as 90% share-of-voice. These are obstacles digitally astute PR practitioners must navigate.

Among the shocks of the report, we shouldn’t lose focus on the positives. Brands continue to slowly increase their investment of marketing budgets in digital and social media. The mean percentage of spend on social media is 27%, up from 25% in 2016. Encouragingly, 55% of in-house respondents say their budget will increase over the next 12 months. Only 4% of respondents say their budget will decrease in the next year. The main areas of digital and social media spend are video-based content (57%), image-based content (53%), and online advertising (51%).

At the end of the London event, topics were discussed that could make an appearance in the 2018 Digital PR and Communications Report. These ranged from the growth of influencer marketing, increase in social advertising, to how virtual reality may be used. One of the most exciting development areas in my mind is the growth of non-visual content, including the ability to influence intelligent personal assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to present searched for content.

The PRCA panel for the London launch event.

Whilst the speed of technological development may leave some in the PR industry feeling uneasy, in my view this is the best time to be working; never has being a PR practitioner been so varied or had so many opportunities.

If you want to read the key takeaways of the report then visit the PRCA’s news release here. Alternatively visit Marcel’s blog post for a read of the highlights and some more opinions shared at the London launch event.

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