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What happened to digital PR in 2020?

Every year the PRCA releases its digital report, and every year it surprises me in some way. Based on research undertaken last November, at the end of a year like no other, it provides a useful insight into the state of the digital PR industry and what clients are really looking for from us. I’ve been working in digital since 2006 and it’s been heartening to see the sector grow year-on-year. And, in the light of a global pandemic, with many people stuck at home, 2020 was really the year digital came to the masses.

Here are some trends the report has highlighted. Bookmark this page and come back in a year to see if they ring true.

Digital budgets have increased

While many areas of marketing had their budgets slashed in 2020, digital thrived. 53% of in-house teams said their digital budgets increased and only 9% said they decreased. Most expected budgets to increase or stay the same through 2021. This is something we have seen reflected in briefs over the last 12 months. Clients across all sectors have either increased their digital presence, or have recognised the need to pivot their traditional business model towards a digital one.

Where is this increased budget being spent? Well, encouragingly, 56% of in-house teams have a budget for paid social. With pay-to-play being standard on most social channels now, this is key. In terms of digital PR, online media relations, press releases, influencer outreach and digital media relations are all core services being requested from agencies.

But, opportunities are still being missed

It’s great to see a renewed focus on digital and social, but is that focus always in the right area? According to in-house respondents, social media is about awareness (79%) and reach (78%). While this is true – through social media you can reach literally billions of people – a smart social strategy can drive so much more. For many of our B2B clients, including BRITA and DNV, social media – coupled with brilliant content – has driven leads, generating increased revenue. These are the kinds of results that sales teams and C-Suite respond to, but we too often see a focus on softer metrics.

Lack of budget was also cited as a growing reason not to do social (35% of respondents, vs. 27% in 2019). But I have a suspicion this links back to the previous point around what social is used for. If you can demonstrate social has driven website visits, leads or sales more efficiently than other marketing channels, then you will find budget is unlocked. Research from Linchpin shows that social is often one of the most cost-effective lead generation channels.

The data also showed that our tastes in 2020 were a bit more conservative, with chatbots, voice and AR unlikely to secure budget. Is this a missed opportunity? Possibly. If the technology could support a core part of your digital strategy, then you can definitely get ahead of your competitors by being bold.

Video is still king

Video has been the dominant content format for as long as I’ve been writing blogs like this. But, it shows no sign of going away. During 2020, online video consumption quadrupled. So, it comes as no surprise that video content budgets rose in 2020, with nearly two-thirds of marketers saying it was included in their marketing plans. This makes complete sense – video is easy to digest, mobile networks now provide great 4/5G coverage, and brands can convey a lot in just a few seconds. With the rise of platforms like TikTok, we are seeing more and more content creators working with brands to make videos that don’t feel like ads. There will always be a need for brand owned content, but the mix is becoming more diverse.

What about 2021 and beyond?

2020 showed how predicting the future can be a fool’s errand. But data from the PRCA report points to a few things:

  • 76% of agencies expect to be supporting clients with virtual events for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has highlighted the benefits of online events and we expect to see a blended approach of live and virtual events for the next few years at least
  • 52% of clients get their social/ digital training from external courses. This is a trend we’ve seen growing as many of our clients look to upskill, and we can support them with bespoke training in paid social, LinkedIn for sales and much more
  • And finally, while the report talks about the rise in influencer outreach, it makes no mention of TikTok, which really came into its own in 2020. The platform’s focus on learning and entertainment makes it perfect for some brands, and it has an authenticity that other social platforms have long since lost. I’d expect TikTok to get a starring role in next year’s report

You can read the full report here.

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