This edition of the quarterly report polled 300 marketing executives from UK-based companies, of whom more than three-quarters answered questions relating to PR spend.
A quarter of respondents expected their PR budget to increase in 2014 but more than 16 per cent expected a decrease, giving a net positive balance of 8.2 per cent.
However, their experience in the final quarter of last year was different. The survey gave a negative balance of 2.8 per cent for PR budgets for October to December 2013, which was the second successive quarter that PR lagged most other marketing disciplines and the rising trend in overall budgets.
Lord Chadlington, chief executive of Huntsworth, said this gave him grounds for continued concern about the PR industry’s ability to attract client spend on digital channels.
He said he was sticking to the comment he made at the time of the last Bellwether survey that if PR budgets did not move ahead over the following two quarters "we should all worry – it could mean we are losing the digital battle".
The long streak of growth in digital budgets continued in Q4 2013, according to the Bellwether, with a positive balance of 9.2 per cent of companies reporting upward revisions.
Unity co-founder Nik Done was less pessimistic than Chadlington. She said she did not believe that spend on PR was going down, and argued the Bellwether survey’s PR category did not necessarily reflect all the spend that Unity won.
"Half the time now when we’re asked to pitch it’s for tactic-neutral briefs where we often come up against advertising or digital agencies. The client sees that money as being marketing spend and absolutely not PR spend."
Chadlington opined that the Bellwether’s PR category tracked the "traditional public relations business" and worried that the PR industry was not getting its fair share of digital spend.
"Part of the problem lies with agencies and part of the problem lies with clients, because clients aren’t quite sure how to fit the digital communications solution into their budgets.
"So sometimes it appears in the marketing or advertising budget and it is something we could win but because they don’t think about it as being a PR solution we don’t win it, or even get considered for it sometimes."