PR agencies make the case for leading digital activity

Digital network SoDA ‘s 2016-2017 Digital Outlook Study highlights that brands, or clients, are handing their digital budget to agencies more frequently, and the majority of them use only two agencies at a time. Comms professionals from MHP, Eulogy and Wolfstar argue the case for PR specialists as first choice for clients when planning digital activity.

The survey, produced by SoDA (formerly the Society of Digital Agencies), and conducted with Forrester Research, highlights that the number of clients taking full responsibility for digital efforts at their companies has dropped to 13% in 2016 from 27% in 2015.

Where this happens, clients are most likely (31%) to use two agencies to aid digital efforts, while 21% use three agencies, 20% use one and four, or ‘five or more’, agencies are used by 7% and 8%, respectively.

As more agencies offer ‘full service’ solutions, and, with a trend towards fewer of them being used, as competition hots up, we asked comms pros from MHP, Eulogy and Wolfstar why they think digital PR agencies should be at the top of the list.

Comms is the key for building wider strategy

Adam Batstone, director of digital at MHP Communications, argues that the key benefit of an ‘integrated’ PR agency is the range of expertise and communications experience that can be called upon to answer a brief.

“Most digital work will require contributions from a variety of people from content makers to app developers. At MHP, we can judge what a client needs to improve its digital strategy and help them to get the best results rather than focusing solely on one specific aspect of digital work,” he said.

PR agencies are in strong position as they often combine the abilities of creative, media and search agencies with communication leading the way, according to Phil Borge, director at Eulogy.

He said: “Regardless of what it is we are delivering, the focus is always on the communication flowing between a brand and its public. We intrinsically understand how this conversation works, its fast changing nature, and the need for a brand to flex and adapt accordingly.”

PR agencies are natural leaders in social media – a big part of digital budgets

Clients decide on which agency should handle its social by establishing what they want to achieve with it and how it fits into the wider marketing strategy.

Mike Addis, senior digital account manager at Wolfstar, explains why a PR agency is best placed in the marketing mix to lead the way: “A PR agency often spends a lot of time understanding the wider aims and objectives of its client’s communications strategy and will ensure that the social media approach is aligned with the company’s marketing activity to deliver the most impact, meet agreed objectives and deliver the greatest return on investment.”

Eulogy’s Borge added: “PR agencies will often have a direct route into the organisation’s senior team and c-suite too, and are far more often treated as an extension of the business than other marketing disciplines.”

PR should use high quality organic content to compete with paid-for services

The biggest challenge for digital PR agencies is competing with paid-for service offerings by others. Batstone believes the key is sticking with your strengths. He said: “Using promoted spend to back up a digital campaign can be an effective approach for some clients. Our first priority is always to create a high quality content which is shared organically.”

Borge believes that in the case of agencies that offer paid-for services, if you can’t beat them, join them. He said: “We compete with honesty. If paid-for services are the right fit for a campaign, we use them, in combination with earned, owned and shared media channels.

“Nothing is off the table, but it needs to be in the interests of a successful campaign, not in the interests of meeting our own paid-for sales targets.”

  • The ‘outlook for agencies’ section of The SoDA report is based on 629 marketers worldwide.
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