Last Wednesday (10th September) I attended the PRCA’s 2014 Digital Report event in central London, which aimed to provide a benchmark on the PR industries performance with digital communications.

An expert panel participated in a lively discussion about the report’s findings and provoked much debate in the 50-strong audience. Unsurprisingly, the growing ‘digital PR’ industry was top of the agenda, coupled with the challenges that come with the pace in which this sector continues to evolve.

The report revealed that although there is a significant change from previous years, 46% of brands are still only spending just 1%-10% of their marketing budgets on digital and social media.

Danny Whatmough, Chairman of the PRCA Digital Group, commented: “Many agencies expect the percentage of digital revenue to rise between 21% to 30% in the next 12 months.”

For many agencies this is a substantial leap. To land a slice of this pie, agencies will be looking to evolve their range of services to attract an increased investment from new and existing clients.

During the event there was much debate about how agencies can add most value. As brands (and their marketing managers/ brand managers) pivot towards digital and social opportunities, they first must consider to what extent they wish to manage these elements in-house. The PRCA report revealed that the most common approach is to take the tactical work, such as community management, in house but to seek strategic counsel on content creation, blogger outreach and day-to-day reputation management online.

Panel member Jon Silk, director at Bite, agreed: “If clients have got the skills covered internally for something like community management, what’s the next thing they don’t have? The more complex side of branded content, and the creation of it.”

In the case that an agency takes responsibility for content creation the next step is to ensure the right people are being exposed to it, which the panel agreed, and demonstrated how some elements of paid media have a place in PR. Simon Shaw, chief creative officer at Hill & Knowlton added: “We can create a really great idea and publish it in the best way possible, and that’s where paid media comes in; a real-time use of money.”

When it comes to ‘above the line’ spending to push content out there through social, the panel agreed that it is a much more organic process and that everyone across the agency should to be clued up on how to do it – not just the digital team. Simon added: “It’s almost like saying, ‘I don’t know how to work Twitter’, you have to know the tools that are at your disposal if you’re publishing content.”

Wild Card delivers organic and paid content through many social feeds every day, and can agree that it has become a standard procedure at the agency. Although we must still work to demonstrate to brands that paid media in social can provide a respectable ROI, we still look ahead to other ways to apply the proven skill sets within PR to digital communication channels. Vikki Morgan, head of agency Things With Wings elaborates; when discussing agencies’ effort in attracting new business in the paid arena, she suggested for her agency she was more interested in native advertising options through sites like Buzzfeed or Stylist for high impact (and large investment) programming.

Although we have a long way to go in demonstrating the true worth of how paid media in social can provide a respectable ROI, we must keep looking ahead to other ways to apply the proven PR skill sets to the digital communication channels.

Danny Whatmough, Chairman of the PRCA Digital Group, concluded: “As trends throughout the world of social media and digital continue to change, brands and businesses look to ensure they stay ahead of the curve and agencies prepare to embrace the new vanguard of paid digital media.”

Want to know more or give us some feedback on your take? Find me at @ColinRose on Twitter.

To read the full report, find it here.