Digital PR: PRWeek Digital Survey 2009

Are PR agencies taking digital comms seriously? PRWeek carried out exclusive research into how effectively the discipline is being embraced and asked a panel of judges to give their opinion on some of the best digital campaigns out there. Cathy Wallace reports.

Expert analyst: Will Scougal, Mischief PR
Expert analyst: Will Scougal, Mischief PR

The PRWeek Digital Survey 2009 aims to paint a picture of how the PR industry views digital right now - and where it may be going. In total, there were 64 responses - a surprisingly small number considering the force with which many proclaim their digital credentials.

This low number of responses could be down to a reluctance among PR agencies and departments to share their working practices. While digital remains the buzz word, PROs are still feeling their way, rather than following established paths to success. Some respondents even claimed answering our questions would breach commercial confidentiality or the Sarbanes Oxley Act.

Those that did respond ranged from small agencies and one-man bands - even one in-house department (Historic Royal Palaces) - to globally recognised agencies with thousands of employees.

But while many may talk the talk, the only way to find out if they could back this up was to look at examples of their work.

We asked consultancies to submit their three best digital campaigns for consideration. We then put these campaigns to a panel of judges from client and supplier side, and asked them to choose their favourites. We have profiled these campaigns as a showcase of some of the best, most innovative digital work in the UK.

In addition to PRWeek's research, we outline exclusive research by Weber Shandwick asking how influential online has become for consumers.

THE TEN BEST DIGITAL CAMPAIGNS...

SOCIAL MEDIA
Campaign: PV-Holidays.com
Client: Pierre & Vacances group
PR team: Surf PR
Budget: £26,400

Surf PR managed the reputation, SEO, blogs, forums and social media outreach of French tour operator Pierre & Vacances.

Bespoke content was created and distributed to specialist travel websites. The campaign has seen coverage of the operator, and hits to the website, increase significantly.

Will Scougal, head of digital content at Mischief PR, says: 'This is a campaign of halves that started well, with good intentions, and got some good results, but has petered out. If your social media campaign is not going to stick around, then give it a lifespan.'

RESEARCH
Campaign: BBC 5 Live Football Player Widget
Client: BBC
PR team: onlinefire
Budget: £16,000

To promote the BBC Football Player Widget, which allows fans to see specific content focused on their own team, onlinefire researched grassroots football fansites in the UK. More than 660 sites and blogs were found and each was sent a personalised widget to correspond to its team. Partnerships were also set up with 'umbrella' football sites and the campaign drove more than 1.5 million downloads of the widget.

Scougal says: 'In social outreach you have to add value with social currency. This is a good example of doing just that - reaching out to the right influencer groups, with the right social currency to achieve the business objective.'

CREATIVE
Campaign: Resident Evil Degeneration - Zombie Singles
Client: Nokia 3rd Party
PR team: Chocolate Communications
Budget: Less than £20,000

Noise Digital and Chocolate launched Zombie Singles, the official dating site for the undead, to promote the new Resident Evil Degeneration game. The platform allows users to interact by creating pseudo-dating profiles in the hope of finding their zombie match. Chocolate targeted fansites and communities across Nokia's ten key global markets. The campaign was fronted by a heart-broken zombie looking for love and had webcasters posting agony aunt style letters on their blogs to promote the site. Competitions, screenshots, in-game videos of Resident Evil Degeneration and interviews were used to generate further hype around the release of the game. The campaign saw more than 10,000 dating profiles created on Zombie Singles, and the site itself won a Digital Lion at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival 2009.

Scougal says: 'The idea is central to success. Zombie dating? Brilliant. The content is excellent so the campaign pretty much takes care of itself. You go out there and start talking about it and soon everyone is at it, spreading the word like a zombie virus.'

INNOVATIVE
Campaign: Henry VIII Twitters the path to power - 500 years later!
Client: Historic Royal Palaces
PR team: In-house
Budget: No direct costs

To raise awareness of the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne, and a year-long programme of events from Historic Royal Palaces, a Twitter account was created for the long-gone monarch. @IamHenryVIII began Tweeting on 21 April and with the help of historians, gave insights into his marriage to Katherine of Aragon (including its consummation), jousts, feasts, war and the coronation. Henry has nearly 1,300 followers and the campaign, which hit many national publications and broadcast outlets, has contributed to more than 960,000 visitors to exhibitions since April, and a year-on-year rise in visitors to the Historic Royal Palaces' website of 61 per cent.

Scougal says: 'A really nice use of Twitter to educate and engage with the public, while creating a wider news story. As the use of Twitter becomes less of a story in itself, it will be interesting to see how HRP uses it to build its brand. I look forward to seeing other historical figures tweeting throughout the year.'

IDEA
Campaign: A Love Story Made in Sheffield
Client: Basset's (Cadbury)
PR team: Shiny Red
Budget: £150,000

Red Liquorice Allsorts needed a relaunch to boost awareness and purchase, while the wider Allsorts brand needed to rekindle consumer affection.

The solution was Betty Bassett - a fresh face to front Red Liquorice Allsorts. Betty was to be launched as Bertie Bassett's fiancee and the latest WAG. A tease and reveal campaign began with an engagement announcement in The Times, followed by a shot-for-web video showing gossip magazine celebrities expressing shock that Bertie was getting married. A Facebook profile was set up for Betty and this was used to extend the life of the story through the wedding and honeymoon of the characters. The Facebook-hosted 'wedding' was attended by more than 21,000 online guests and generated more than 75,000 responses.

Scougal says: 'This was a sweet idea for a campaign that had the potential, with strong content and execution, to fly online. It would have been nice to see the public being invited to the actual wedding via the outreach, rather than "attending online", and the wedding video is a shocker - but then again, aren't they all?'

ROI
Campaign: The Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian
Client: Harper Collins/Disney
PR team: Midas Public Relations
Budget: £20,000

Ahead of the release of the movie adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian, Midas PR was briefed to ensure a new generation of readers were encouraged to read the book before seeing the movie.

The Read it Before You See It campaign that ensued saw Narnia fansites and bloggers kept up to date with news, interviews and competitions. The campaign was covered

on The Sun online, GMTV.co.uk, Kids AOL and First News online, with stories consistently linked to the Harper Collins microsite. Prince Caspian by CS Lewis was propelled straight into the children's bestseller lists.

Scougal says: 'This a nice use of quite limited assets giving a good channel spread, but the target market may have missed the placement of a downloadable chapter on The Sun online.

'A solid "off the shelf" campaign tying in the book and the film for little budget and great ROI.'

DESIGN
Campaign: Future Routers
Client: TalkTalk
PR team: Launch Group
Budget: £50,000

TalkTalk wanted to be seen as a thought leader and innovator. To achieve online and offline coverage by reinventing the wireless router, Launch Group brought together TalkTalk and Goldsmiths University, which is famous for its cutting-edge design and production talent.

Four new routers were conceptualised and created, and the campaign was supported by a video, microsite and intensive on and offline media relations. The campaign was covered worldwide and the pieces will be exhibited at Gizmodo's Gallery event in New York.

Scougal says: 'Is there a more boring subject than broadband? Toner ink maybe? This is a nice creative collaboration that turns a very boring subject into something quite interesting. Involving Goldsmiths has created some great results.'

BRAND VALUE
Campaign: Unisys Security Index
Client: Unisys
PR team: Brands2Life
Budget: £25,000

Brands2Life was charged with transforming a static, biannual security report into the Unisys Security Index, a global media resource.

The site was optimised to improve search engine rankings and supported by a full analytics package. Brands2Life also developed a content management system for the site, allowing each country to add content relevant to their markets. This led to more than 800 stories generated across the world, and more than 7,000 unique users in 2008.

Scougal says: 'With sites like this, which contain a lot of statistics, it is important to have key information displayed in an engaging way to encourage further investigation. With that in mind, the interactive map on the home page is quite nice, but it would be good to see a few more security facts.'

PARTNERSHIPS
Campaign: Sweat in the City
Client: Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation
PR team: Lexis Sport
Budget: £50,000

The Sweat in the City pilot from the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation aimed to encourage 2,000 young women in London to take up a free three-month gym membership.

Lexis created a bespoke website as a 'social hub'. A partnership was set up with social networking group Bebo and Lexis promoted the website through blogs and niche websites. The PR team also recruited Liberty X star Jessica Taylor and WAG Carly Zucker for no cost, as ambassadors for the campaign. The campaign attracted more than 23,000 unique users and encouraged 2,097 women to take up the gym membership.

Scougal says: 'A good spread of engagement across online channels to drive traffic to the campaign site. It would be good to see how this activity translated into print coverage though. As PR agencies we can understand how content drives wider coverage.'

NEXT BIG THING
Campaign: 2ergo Develops Rightmove iPhone Application
Client: 2ergo
PR team: Ogilvy PR London
Budget: £2,000

Mobile tech company 2ergo created an iPhone application for property site Rightmove. Ogilvy publicised the app with a live demonstration and drinks, alongside a social media release and press release that had an embedded demonstration video, facts and connections to portals such as Twitter, Digg and Facebook. A YouTube channel was created to host video content, and a video was shown across blogs and websites. The campaign was also released to, and covered by, traditional media. The app shot to first place on the UK downloads chart within days of its release.

Scougal says: 'This is a nice idea that feeds off a national obsession with property. A solid campaign for a nominal fee, with a good use of assets. Again it is a case of talking to the right people with the right social currency.'

KEY FINDINGS OF THE PRWEEK DIGITAL SURVEY...

Does your agency have a digital department?

YES - 60%

NO - 40%

Does your agency have a head of digital or similar post?

YES - 59%

NO - 41%

It is no surprise that the majority of agencies have digital departments or heads of digital. The size of digital departments ranges from 27 to 30 full-time members of staff in larger agencies, to just one person in smaller firms. However, many agencies also said everyone was expected to have a good grasp of digital. Specific departments may become redundant once all team members are trained in digital and able to use their judgement to decide the best medium for a particular campaign.

As Steve Loynes, head of B2B at The Reptile Group, which incorporates Chameleon PR and Komodo PR, puts it: 'Understanding the client and its marketplace is what leads to the best campaigns, not a specialism in a particular medium. All our consultants incorporate digital activity where it makes sense for the client.'

That said, several agencies filling in the survey described themselves as wholly digital or online, showing that some do feel focusing entirely on the new medium is the right strategy.

DO YOU USE A THIRD PARTY AGENCY FOR DIGITAL WORK?

YES - 13.5%

NO - 86.5%

Agencies work with third party digital suppliers from time to time, often to create content and to help with design, production and build, and SEO. However, agencies may increasingly meet these needs in-house. One large agency confirmed it is about to launch its own digital marketing agency, removing the need for a third party.

- What percentage of clients now request digital to form part of PR activity? (average) - 83%

It looks like clients are becoming increasingly aware of the power of digital, with an average of 83 per cent now requesting digital PR. Many agencies reported 100 per cent of clients now request online activity. Interestingly, other agencies reported figures as low as ten per cent. Lisa Wisniowski, marketing manager at Brahm PR, says: 'Many clients are unsure what to ask for or what benefits it can bring. We expect this to change in the next 12 months as clients become more experienced and digital PR comes out of its "test and learn" phase.' It is likely as clients become more educated, campaigns will be expected to have a digital element. Jill Coomber, founder and CEO of Chocolate Communications, adds: 'With the exception of one brief that specifically did not include digital, all other campaigns have included an element of digital activity, usually because we have highlighted the benefits of it.'

- What percentage of pitches incorporate digital PR activity? (average) - 88%

Agencies are proactively suggesting digital as a medium worth targeting - sometimes in the face of clients who turn their noses up at online in comparison with traditional media such as print and broadcast.

- Have you found yourself pitching against non-PR agencies in the past 12 months?

YES - 61%

NO - 27%

DON'T KNOW - 12%

It is a competitive field out there and PR agencies are increasingly finding agencies from other disciplines stealing their territory. PR agencies have pitched against digital agencies, advertising firms, media buyers, specialist social media agencies, marketing firms, experiential agencies and SEO agencies. Some have also come up against web build experts and integrated agencies. Some report they have never been beaten by a non-PR agency. 'Many clients are appreciating that PR is the natural champion of an organisation's message and reputation, regardless of the particular channel used to deliver it,' says Kerry Gaffney, senior digital planner at Porter Novelli.

However, Louise Foglia, director UK & Ireland at Way To Blue, reports: 'Our traditional competitors have always been digital agencies. It has only been over the past 24 months that traditional PR agencies have significantly moved into the space.'

- How does your agency measure the success of its digital campaigns?

This question attracted a huge range of answers, from 'client happiness' and 'mentions in PRWeek' to lengthy and detailed explanations. There is a vast range of tools out there, but as Chris McCafferty, director at Shine Communications, notes: 'Measurement within digital comms is the single biggest barrier to growth in the sector.'

Many agencies say they firstly look at what the client wants to achieve, then use free and paid-for tools and desk research to evaluate activity. Clients may want to reduce negative comments online, improve their search ranking, build a community, increase traffic or drive people into their stores.

Measurement can also include the number and quality of links to a client's website, number of views of a clip on YouTube and number of Facebook fans or followers on Twitter.

However, agencies do treat the latter with caution. 'Often a digital campaign is truly successful by targeting only a handful of people online and focusing on quality content and the development of long-term relationships, rather than spraying out to masses of people,' says Loynes.

In terms of tools, Google Alerts are ever-popular. The range of tools from Radian 6, a social media monitoring company, also garnered several mentions.

Return on investment (ROI) tends to be calculated in a similar manner to AVE - by measuring the advertising value of key placements, or by calculating cost per click-through and cost per person reached.

A few agencies were cagey about revealing how they evaluated digital campaigns, saying it was 'commercially confidential information'.

JUDGES

- Pam Sharpless-Lyddon, Digital director, USP Content

Sharpless-Lyddon has a background with AOL Europe, UK and Australia, Tesco.com and Greenfingers.com. She advises clients on digital and broadcast strategies.

- Mark Squires, Global director of social media, Nokia

Squires has been with mobile phone giant Nokia for 15 years, following a period as a consultant at several blue chip companies. He built the social media team at Nokia.

- Bertrand Bodson, Co-founder, Bragster.com

Described by The Guardian as 'Jackass meets Facebook', Bragster is a community that encourages users to challenge each other to dares then post videos. It won a Red Herring Award for Top Net Company in 2008.

- Marc Campman, Marketing director, Webjam

Campman worked for large corporate and start-up companies in tech, telecoms and gaming, before joining Webjam, which helps firms create social networking sites.

- Expert analysis provided by Will Scougal, Head of digital content, Mischief PR

Scougal began his career at Warner Music on integrated campaigns for artists, and specialised in digital before the term 'social media' was coined. Has worked for digital, integrated and PR shops including Glue London and AKQA.

WHAT CONSUMERS THINK

Thinking about goods and services, how influential are each of the following sources in helping you make purchasing decisions?

New research by Weber Shandwick, revealed exclusively in PRWeek, has found that companies neglect the internet at their peril.

Online, including social media, has become the most influential source in helping consumers make purchasing decisions, according to the poll of more than 4,600 European consumers.

Crucially, the internet has now overtaken word of mouth as the most influential source of information when considering purchases.

'We have always known digital was an important part of the communications mix, but this new research proves it incontrovertibly,' says James Warren, chief digital strategist at Weber Shandwick.

Despite this there is still a serious lack of understanding of the power of online chatter among many companies. Last week PRWeek reported how heads of marketing at big brands, including LG Electronics, warned at a PRWeek conference that digital was a low priority for many companies (PRWeek, 2 October).

Advertising: 9%
online (inc social) media: 26%
Friends & family: 20%
Retail staff: 13%
Newspapers & magazines: 12%
Company website: 11%
TV/radio shows: 9%
Source: Weber Shandwick Inline Research

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