PR agencies claw back digital business from specialist shops

Larger PR agencies are winning digital business from specialist shops as they strengthen their in-house expertise, according to industry research.

Switch: Bwin and Birds Eye use PR firms for their online work
Switch: Bwin and Birds Eye use PR firms for their online work

New business intelligence firm Pearlfinders has identified a reversal of last year's trend for clients seeking digital specialists to 'plug the gap' in their existing comms function.

In the first five months of 2013 more than 40 per cent of PR budget holders expressed a preference for comms agencies over digital shops, compared with 35 per cent for the same period in 2012.

Pearlfinders MD Anthony Cooper said: 'As the production and digital divisions of mid-sized PR players grow they have been increasingly able to win these kinds of (digital) briefs.'

Another new business services player, Creativebrief MD Charlie Carpenter, pointed to January's Birds Eye review as an example of more integrated digital and PR briefs.

The frozen food brand's marketing director Margaret Jobling moved the social media account, previously run by digital agency Glue Isobar, to Mischief PR alongside its consumer and b2b PR work.

Jobling said at the time that consolidating the work into one agency would enable the brand to work in a more streamlined and agile way.

Carpenter said he had seen a slow shift over the past two years to move social media work to PR agencies, but remained unconvinced that clients were moving wholesale digital work to comms businesses.

'PR skills are about storytelling and crafting engaging content, which is naturally well aligned with how social media are used to create a dialogue and advocacy with consumers,' he said.

Founder and MD of Frank PR Andrew Bloch argued clearer measurements of return on investment were boosting comms agencies' credibility in the digital space.

For example, Frank's work for betting client bwin meant the brand 'was able to see a financial impact on its bottom line'.

Bloch said: 'Campaigns that link back to a part of a client's business can look at the impact of a piece of work on sales, or reservations or the amount of bets placed. This is giving clients the confidence to put their money in PR.'

HOW I SEE IT

Michael Frohlich, MD, Ogilvy PR

I agree clients want agencies that can offer specialisms, not just in digital but across the PR business. Brands such as Confused.com want a fully integrated offer on content, digital activation and media relations, and one of the key trends we have seen is the need to be able to link together our specialisms and create a stronger offering.

Richard Brett, MD, Shine Communications

PR agencies create conversations for brands and while some have been slow to adopt digital, they are starting to catch up. We have shifted our content creation into the digital space and only present programmes to clients that have digital and SEO at their heart.

Rethink of digital support pivotal to PR reviews

Demand for consumer and corporate PR work is on an upward curve, according to Pearlfinders' research.

Consumer PR services were sought by 19.6 per cent of the 1,250 budget holders that Pearlfinders surveyed in the first quarter of this year.

This compared with 14.8 per cent for the same period during 2012 and 13.7 per cent in 2011, using the same budget holder sample size.

Corporate PR services were sought by 13.2 per cent in the first quarter of this year, up from 10.8 per cent during the same period in 2012.

Pearlfinders MD Cooper said the uptrend in PR reviews was 'in no small part because of the growing number of reviews that cover how both digital and PR components will be resourced'.

Cooper pointed to data revealing that, in the first quarter of this year, 39.1 per cent of PR reviews included a revision of digital support.

Pearlfinders also found that consumer PR was the most likely discipline to be affected by the plans of 1,232 marketers to review their needs in the next 12 months.

Twenty per cent planned to address consumer PR, followed by 18.2 per cent planning to address digital, 14.5 per cent corporate PR and 14.4 per cent social media.

Key figures

30.6% Proportion of PR reviews taking place alongside a digital review in 2010

39.1% Proportion of PR reviews taking place alongside a digital review in Q1 2013

20% Proportion of respondents likely to review PR in next 12 months

14.4% Proportion of respondents likely to review social media in next 12 months

Source: Pearlfinders

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