-) Online PR still viewed as a technical and specialist PR function.
-) Limited resource and lack of skills holding back the PR industry.
-) Ownership of online PR strategy and implementation and measurement likely to be defining issues in 2009.

Many organisations are struggling to understand, resource and measure Online PR according to research published today.

These are some of the key findings from E-consultancy’s Online PR Industry Benchmarking report. The study has been undertaken to establish the importance of Online PR within the marketing mix, benchmark the percentage of PR budgets being spent on online activity, and define who is driving strategy and implementation.

Over 300 UK marketers and PR professionals working for both in-house company teams and for agencies were surveyed to explore growth in the online PR industry and highlight the challenges that marketers currently face.

The most popular Online PR definition was “maximising favourable mentions of your company, brands, products or websites on third party sites”, indicating that current Online PR objectives are outreach and engagement-based.

Online PR is still clearly viewed as a specialist and technical PR function by many respondents. Two thirds of agencies surveyed (64%) have a separate Online PR division.

Online PR is clearly not ‘owned’ by PR specialists. The results show that when companies outsource Online PR to agencies or specialists, 51% of companies are using PR agencies but a significant percentage are using search marketing agencies (29%) and web development agencies (22%) to develop and deliver Online PR strategy.

Levels of client satisfaction are not encouraging, highlighting that some agencies may need to improve their Online PR knowledge and offering. A fifth of clients (20%) are very satisfied with their agency’s level of Online PR knowledge, 28% are moderately satisfied, 19% are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, 15% are mildly dissatisfied and 13% are very dissatisfied.

Agencies who feel that clients fear social media and reputational issues will be encouraged to see that this hardly figured as a barrier to delivering Online PR. Nearly three quarters of company respondents said that limited resources (73%) was the biggest barrier followed by limited internal understanding (53%).

The top 3 reasons / barriers for agencies are limited client resources (48%), clients questioning the value of Online PR (48%) and limited client understanding (47%). Again, there is great disparity between agencies feeling that clients do not value Online PR (48%) when only 19% of clients state that lack of senior management buy-in is a barrier.

Michelle Goodall, Online PR and Social Media Consultant, E-consultancy comments:
“Resourcing and skills appear to be the biggest problem for clients. The latter is a relatively simple one to solve with training support and defining what PR actually means to your organisation, the former is not so easy given the current economic climate.

“One of the key areas of concern for the more traditional PR agencies is that the Online PR budget holder may not always be their PR client and that budget holder has clear ideas about measurement and ROI in an online environment. This is one of the reasons why Online PR is being outsourced to search marketing and web development agencies who have developed their own version of Online PR metrics.”

The majority of respondents providing additional open comments indicated their main concerns relate to measuring Online PR and social media. The time, resources and costs can be prohibitive when viewed as a percentage of the total PR budget and the lack of industry standard ROI metrics for many prove to be a barrier.

Katy Howell, MD at PR agency Immediate Future, comments:

“Measurement and results benchmarks are the key unlocking the real potential of Online PR. With defined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), it is easier to rationalise the investment needed in resources and training. Until this knotty issue is resolved, companies will continue with integrated campaigns that purely focus on delivering the only brand metric that justifies a spend - favourable brand mentions.”

Measurement and metrics continue to be an issue for many agencies, and it looks like it could be one of the defining elements of Public Relations in 2009.

The full free report is available to E-consultancy registered users to download here: http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/online-pr-benchmarking-report/

Journalists and bloggers can email or call Linus Gregoriadis or Michelle Goodall for a complimentary copy of the report and / or further information.

Linus Gregoriadis, Head of Research, E-consultancy
(e: linus AT e-consultancy.com t: + 44 (0) 207 681 4051 / +44 (0) 7956 564713)
Michelle Goodall, Online PR and Social Media Consultant, E-consultancy.com
(e: michelle AT e-consultancy.com, t: +44 (0) 207 681 4092, m: +44 (0) 7977 418630)

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Published on: 12:00AM on 11th December 2008