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79 out of 100 top UK PR companies don’t offer online PR services: Bigmouthmedia

I’ve just come across a recent survey from Bigmouthmedia that claims that 79 out of the 100 top UK PR companies don’t offer online PR services.

They also say that only 14% of the operations that claimed to have new media covered published their own blogs. And that taken as a whole, only 11% of UK PR Consultancies use blogs to communicate with clients, colleagues and the wider marketplace.

I have to say I found these figures overly low. On the basis of the above analysis, there are only 11 agencies out of the top 100 that have a blog. Surely not.

Then again, I remain curious about the terms online PR, digital PR, etc. Most people I talk to seem to think there is no real semantic difference between them – they are simply different ways of describing the same thing.

However, in terms of their relative search popularity, there clearly are differences. Here are the figures for October 2008 in the UK:
Online PR 2,900
Online public relations 1,600
Web PR 880
Digital PR 590
Internet PR 260
Internet Public Relations 170

Digital public relations 73

Taking Google’s Insight for Search Tool, you can see that interest in the term “online PR” for example was at its highest back at the beginning of March 2008 – and has been bouncing around below this figure ever since. Google Insight also shows the regional breakdown for the term – and it would seem no one outside of London searches for “online PR”.

So what are the implications of all this for the UK online PR market?

This suggests that although interest is growing, it still remains a niche. For example, the term “fashion PR” was searched for 6,600 times last month. Indeed, the term social media scored 9,900 (though its variants such as social media PR, social media marketing, etc hardly registered).

Adam Parker, Chief Executive of online news distribution company webitpr commented on the Bigmouthmedia survey saying: “Despite finding that an increasing number of UK PR professionals are on the ball when it comes to online PR, this survey confirms our experience that a high proportion are still more focussed on traditional media. However, given that this is most probably a reflection of client budget and resource allocations, perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is what this says about UK business’ attitude towards online communications.”

Indeed. Though I’d argue that there is a difference between being aware of the need for online PR and being “on the ball”. Based on the above, it seems that interest in online PR (or whatever term you prefer) is largely confined both client and agency side to a hard core bunch of London-based converts. That surely has to change.

As Adam Parker added: “On a positive note, we feel that with steadily growing interest in the online world from both agencies and in house departments, the tide is beginning to turn. But if it is to properly address the challenges and opportunities that new media offers, the industry must invest in relevant services and training at all levels. Those failing to do so run the long-term risk of losing out in the inevitable battle for the online communications market.”

That I think nails it on the head. Agencies understandably are reluctant to offer services their clients aren’t going to pay for – but unless clients are given the option to actually try or buy a new service, then how can they invest in it? Those agencies that take the risk of developing new online services are clearly going to give themselves a better long term advantage.

12 replies on “79 out of 100 top UK PR companies don’t offer online PR services: Bigmouthmedia”

Wow. This is just amazing. Given the fact that EVERY major news outlet in the world has either eliminated staff or is planning to do so, who do these firms assume they will be pitching eventually?

Savage stuff, if the numbers are accurate.

You make an interesting point here – I bet many prospective clients continue to search for an agency specific to their industry, eg ‘Fashion PR’, as opposed to ‘online PR’.

Maybe the real opportunity here is for online PR specialists to sell services into traditional PR agencies, working as a fulfilment house rather than in a client-winning / facing role?

Hi Andrew

Thanks for the hattip. I agree “aware” doesn’t equal “on the ball” but IMHO I do think that there are an increasing number of PRs who are – though arguably from a relatively small base. But then hey I’m an accountant so what do I know about PR! 🙂

On the try before they buy point I think you are spot on. Agencies are sometimes reluctant to take a more proactive approach to using new services such as ours. However I also think it is equally our responsibility as a service provider to communicate the value of what we do and the influence the online media has. This is something we are working on improving significantly as we speak.

Thanks again

@Jason – the focus on traditional media appears as strong as ever – as per this previous post:

@Chris – as I said in the post, the numbers did feel low to me – haven’t had time to actually do a proper check on the top 100 PR League table to see if it actually checks out. To your point about selling services to trad PR companies, that is exactly what we are trying to do at escherman…..

@ Adam – nothing wrong with being an accountant 😉 Agree that we online PR advocates have to keep working on demonstrating the value (and sense) of our approach

I just don’t believe the figures – it seems incredibly low. I’d love to understand more about how ‘online PR’ is defined for this survey; it isn’t clear from the results analysis. Is is companies that have a separate online offering or service, as opposed to integrating it across everything they do? In which case it’s not a true reflection of what’s going on.

Like many SEO companies, Bigmouthmedia offers what it defines as online PR – focusing on ‘optimising’ press releases to fit SEO campaigns rather than advising clients on their online comms strategies. A pretty narrow definition of online PR by most agency standards.

If the survey results are true, I’d say 79 out of the top 100 agencies are about to go under. But I’d be more worried if a independent commentator on the PR industry had generated this research. Perhaps we as an industry should commission something similar and find out what the true picture is?

Kate – thanks for the comment. I too felt the numbers were low – and guess what. They are. If you just take the top 19 tech PR firms (as per PR Week’s league tables and all in the general top 100) – the ones you would think most likely to have a blog, then you find that most of them do ie

Bite Communications
Citigate Dewe Rogerson
Waggener Edstrom
Text 100
Nelson Bostock Communication
The Whiteoaks Consultancy
Inferno Communications
Rainier PR
Octopus Communications
The Red Consultancy
CC Group
Johnson King
AD Communications
Six Degrees

And of course big generalists like H&K do to. And I’m sure many others in the top 100 do to.

Of course, the PR industry can always do better in terms of its approach to online PR – but it does seem that it is in this instance the results don’t seem to stack up.

I have to say the BMM story annoyed me a bit. I almost blogged about it, but stopped short. So, I’ll comment on yours instead 😉

The biggest problem I have with it is the logic that online PR = have own blog.

Just as there’s more to media relations than press releases, there’s so much more than blogging to online PR: SEO, using releases to generate backlinks, Twitter, blogging, social media marketing…the list goes on.

It’s about using the right tool for the job. Just because an agency doesn’t blog themselves doesn’t mean they don’t get it (how many graphic design firms have got crap websites?).

And then there’s the accuracy of their figures to contest…

If fact, /i think this is a world wide reality. The client want to pay for a Digital PR but it is extremely dificult to find a good service in this area. Michelle

Good social media needs compelling content, time and attention: unless you can commit the time, in ‘real time’, and have something really interesting to say, it’s often better not to engage: it would be a PR own goal.

Just because can do blogs, twitter, or the myriad other things that work for online PR, doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the medium.

Firstly, on-line PR is simply a part of PR and needs using when it reaches an appropriate audience, not just for the sake of it.

Think for a moment about what PRs do: even something as simple as a product launch could be ruined by letting slip that it’s coming, who we’re approaching with the story, or that we couldn’t get a demo model to work.

And in the middle of a crisis we really want to be updating people on what we’re doing? Typically we may have information that could hurt people or is unconfirmed, and, more importantly, we should have better things to do in the midst of it all than blogging.

The beauty of social media is its immediacy and the bad bits are the bits that are interesting – the faux pas, rude bits and funny stories. Things journalists, bloggers, twitterers etc are great at and rewarded for with a following. And PRs would be rewarded with sacking for writing.

Effective PR is generally planned and whilst we acknowledge the bad bits, and deal with them, they’re not the bits we want to highlight. The interesting stuff has to be left out if you want to keep clients!

Which leaves us space to talk about our personal lives (do readers really want to know about last night’s curry or this mornings hangover when we should be working clear headed?), other PR companies (PR for them)or the industries we work in (strength in this one).

PRs not using social media for themselves? I suspect that 99% of PRs don’t drive Bugatti Veiron’s either, but just because someone publishes the fact that we don’t, doesn’t mean that we should.

Let’s face it, a blog from PR company would only be a PR exercise – not even a thinly veiled one. It’s sometimes much better to create and feed other, more genuine, sources of entertainment and information.

And with a whole wide web out there, there’s no problem finding plenty of them.

>>PRs not using social media for themselves?

Thanks for the comment – I think there are more PRs joining Twitter daily than any other sector 😉

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