It has been interesting watching and taking part in discussions about our recent Online PR Industry Benchmarking Report. Over 300 UK marketers and PR professionals working for both in-house company teams and for agencies were surveyed.

Here are a few key report findings and opinions from those working at the coal face who blogged or commented…

Online PR/social media ‘ownership’

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.

“Online PR, digital PR, social media, call it what you will, has created a discontinuity. ‘Social media’, ‘Word of Mouth’ and ‘Conversation’ upstarts are taking on established consultancies and winning. But that’s okay. An industry without innovation fuelled at least in part by start-ups is dead.” Stephen Waddington, MD, Rainier PR

“Eventually the PR firms need to take some sort of leadership role here because they have the communications-strategy background that is potentially lacking in marketing firms. It can be a very different animal, measured in very different terms. PR is not just ‘making public noise’, issuing press releases and Twittering about your upcoming event. An experienced communication strategist lines up the sequence of public opinion ‘dominoes’ that need to tip…”
Dana Todd, CMO, Newsforce

Challenge for 2009: Agencies and specialists must clearly define their online PR and social media offering and communicate this to their clients. Demonstrate business benefits using soft and harder metrics. Do your own online PR, innovate, trial stuff and practice what you preach. Be useful. Collaborate. Have an opinion. Be open to having your opinions changed.

Skills and knowledge

In our report, we found that nearly three quarters of company respondents said that limited resources (73%) was the biggest barrier to online PR followed by limited internal understanding (53%).

“There’s no doubting that everyone in the industry should have an understanding of online PR, but speaking as someone who focuses solely on this area I often find the more I learn the more I realise I don’t know. It’s ever-changing too. I don’t think a generalist PR could ever keep up to speed and the complexity it sometimes brings.” Stephen Davies,
Challenge for 2009: Skill up! Get to grips with the basics. Ensure that your agency/organization understands how to plan, implement and measure online PR and social media activity from the top down. Doesn’t matter if it’s simple or on a small scale … often the most straightforward strategies work best.

Tools and techniques evolve much more rapidly than traditional PR. Who could have predicted the impact of Twitter and this time last year?  However, there are some key elements to successful approaches to online PR and social media.

If you need help, consider our popular public training workshops and bespoke in-company training covering online PR and social media basics through to the impact of search on PR and PR on search. Watch this space for more social media and online PR resources and content. Learn to love RSS, discover and subscribe to a few key online PR and social media blogs and listen.

Measurement and ROI

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.

“On the question of ROI, the benefit of technology is that campaigns can be monitored, very results-driven and focused around solid deliverables and quantifiable standards of success. For years, many PR agencies have sold services that lack defined deliverables, yet in this technological world, so it is interesting to note from this report how important this is in the online arena.”  Pauline Christie, MD, ://CORPORACT

“If there is any kind of conclusion, it is that PR professionals need to look more closely at measurement.”
Daryl Wilcox, DWPub

Challenge for 2009: We forecast continued investment in social media marketing activity in 2009, but this will only happen if social media and online PR measurements include both hard and soft metrics and demonstrate some tangible returns.

There is no ‘one-size fits-all’ social media measurement package but we predict that we will see some standardization in measurement. We will be publishing our thoughts and some guidelines for measuring online PR and social media activity next year.

Econsultancy staff, as well as client, agency and vendor/supplier experts have attended Measurement Camp meet-ups in 2008, a collaborative, open source movement instigated by Nixon McInnes, a social media agency.

We’re hosting the first 2009 meet-up on 15 January in London. If you wish to collaborate and create a set of open source resources which allow interested parties to measure their social media communications online and offline, come and join us and sign up on the Measurement Camp Wiki.

If you have little of no experience of social media measurement but have experience of measuring the success of TV/radio advertising, offline word of mouth and PR, your experience will be incredibly valuable.

The next Online PR benchmarking report will take place in 2009 but before that, we need to say goodbye to 2008. I for one have promised my family a web/social media-free couple of days over Christmas and plan to stick to it. My one exception is that I am allowed to do some essential desk research for the annual family festive ‘pub quiz’.

Thanks to all who took part in the survey and those who have commented tweeted, blogged and provided their thoughts. Happy new year to you and Econsultancy members, subscribers and blog readers.