PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report 2018 launches

The UK PR industry’s slice of the digital pie is growing apace, yet confidence in measuring the ROI of digital PR is falling, according to a new industry study.

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA)’s annual Digital PR and Communications Report found a 12% rise in ownership of digital social media activities by PR and communications teams.

But, for the first time, confidence in the ability to measure the ROI of digital PR has fallen below confidence in measuring ROI of traditional PR activities.

The poll of PR professionals, working across multiple sectors both in agency settings and in-house, also found that for a second year, fear of attack from campaigners continues to be a reason why 12% companies are not using social media more often.

The sixth annual PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report, sponsored and produced in partnership with Ginger Research, provides a benchmark of how the PR industry is performing with digital communications.

It also reveals that despite the growth in digital and social media activities by PR teams, the social influencer bubble may have burst, with the biggest budget cut (12%) coming in this area. Blogger outreach has also seen a budget decrease of 9% over the past year.

The digital activity that still claims the largest portion of marketing budget is paid social media, with 55% going towards social spend.

Attitudes and responsibilities

When asked about the reasons behind their organisation’s social media presence, most in-house respondents cite driving awareness (83%), increasing brand awareness (64%), and driving a wider audience reach (65%). This has largely remained unchanged since last year.

This year, we have seen the biggest drop in social media being used as a customer service platform. 35% of brands said they use social media in this fashion, this marks an 11% drop since 2017, and a 21% drop since 2015.

The most cited responses for brands not using social media are lack of staff (49%) and lack of time (45%). Both have increased considerably since 2017. This is closely followed by lack of budget (30%). Fear of attack from campaigners continues for its second year to be a reason why 12% of companies are not using social media more often.

This year, we have seen the PR and communications department take clear ownership over digital and social media content. Over 57% of respondents say that the majority of their digital and social media content is produced by the PR and communications department. This represents a 12% increase since 2016 and 2017.

The second department responsible for managing digital and social media content is the marketing department at 20% (7% decrease since 2017).  Only 12% of respondents say they have a dedicated social media team managing digital and social media responsibilities – down from 28% in 2014.

In-house budgets

The mean percentage of spend on social media is 25.3%, slightly down from 27% in 2017.

Brands are more conservative about their plans to increase their spending on digital and social media than ever before in the history of the Digital PR and Communications Report – 51% of respondents state their budgets will increase in the next 12 months, compared to 62% in 2016. 34% expect digital budgets will remain constant.

The three leading digital and social media areas on which brands spend their marketing budget are: paid social media activity (55%), web design and build (51%), and video-based content (49%).

Spending on three areas introduced into the survey this year is relatively low: chatbots (5%), augmented reality/virtual reality (2%), and voice search/apps (2%).

Blogger outreach and social influencer outreach have seen the biggest budget cuts in the last year, budgets in these areas have decreased by 9% and 12% respectively, despite the popularity of influencers more widely.  We have seen similar budget cuts for text-based content (-11%) and image-based content (-10%).

Agencies and how they are being used

The leading services that PR and communications agencies provide clients are online press release distribution (13%), text-based content (12%), online media relations (12%), and paid social media activity (12%).

The number of clients requesting agency support for image-based and video-based content services has decreased by 4% and 7% respectively.

The prevalent services that clients expect PR and communications agencies to deliver on are: blogger outreach (40%, down from 49%), social influencer outreach (40%, down from 56%), digital crisis management (36%, down from 51%), and online reputation management (36%, down from 51%).

Despite this expectation, only 4% of in-house respondents currently use their PR and communications agencies for digital crisis management.

The leading digital services currently offered by agencies are online media relations/outreach (83%), text-based content (78%), and social network strategy (76%).


Snapchat and Pinterest have seen the biggest drop in usage by in-house teams, dropping to 10% and 3% respectively. Instagram’s usage has increased to 56% this year, although this still represents at 9% drop since 2016.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter (94%) and Facebook (72%) continue to be the most popular platforms amongst brands.

This year, confidence in the ability to measure the ROI of digital PR (such as banner ads, SEO, etc) continues to drop from 63% to 58%. This is the first year that this figure is lower than the confidence in measuring the ROI of traditional PR activities, which stands at 63% this year. 63% of in-house respondents say they can confidently measure the ROI of social media (such as organic and paid).

Most in-house respondents say they could confidently measure the ROI of Facebook (58%) and Twitter (65%).

For agencies, Instagram’s popularity in their client work has increased from 59% to 70%. This is expected to continue in 2019, as 78% of agencies expect to use this platform in the next 12 months. The use of Snapchat has only dropped slightly from 22% to 19%.

The leading platforms among agencies are Twitter (91%), Facebook (85%), and LinkedIn (85%).

Education and Insight

The most highly-rated sources of social media education amongst in-house teams are external training courses (54%), conferences and events (48%), and expert blogs (39%).

When asked which areas they needed more education in, in-house respondents cited social influencer outreach (39%), social network strategy (24%), and monitoring and listening to customers (24%). The need for education in online community engagement has increased from 9% to 22%.

Agencies get most of their training from expert blogs (49%), external training courses (46%), and conferences and events (39%). They are seeking more education in Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (39%), Chatbots (27%), and SEO (26%).

Danny Whatmough CMPRCA, PRCA Digital Group Chairman and Managing Director, Integrated Media, Weber Shandwick, said:

“This year’s report shows a continuing maturity in the way social and digital is being used across the industry. On the one hand, we see shifts in how businesses are approaching customer service and community management. On the other, we have the infancy of new technologies such as AI that are making some of these processes far more efficient. Much hyped disciplines such as influencer marketing are seeing a welcome levelling out as the industry casts a more rigorous eye over how to achieve reliable measurement and ROI metrics from these activities. Overall, there is a wealth of opportunity here for businesses that approach digital communication in a sustainable and agile way.”

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