The Most Urgent Challenges Communicators Must Face in the Digital Age

Mastering digital engagement and measuring the value of PR are the two most pressing challenges facing communications professionals, research has confirmed.

And fear of social and digital campaigns coming under attack from campaigners is deterring clients from pursuing social media strategies. Communicators must change the way they work, and there is a need for more training to help them plan, execute, and measure strategies.

PR professionals, both client-side and in-house, would like more training in digital engagement and report their confidence in measuring digital PR has dropped, according to the PRCA’s Digital PR and Communications Report 2017.

The findings have been backed up by a customer development study of PR and marketing managers and directors within the UK and further afield. Professionals report a need for training in new technologies including channels, developments, and legislation.

Regulations around sponsored and branded content on Instagram, for example, have caused a debate with numerous influencers interpreting the legislation differently. PR professionals need to be able to advise on this often grey area.

Katie Beeton, director at Mischief, says, “This is all constantly evolving, so we have to constantly evolve too.”

Theresa Meredith-Hardy, associate director at Chameleon, adds that the challenge is to try and master new tools while keeping up with the day-job.

And while research from the CIPR has found that practitioners committed to learning and development earn more, time is scarce for many professionals juggling multiple priorities in a fast-paced working environment.

Robust measurement and evaluation of PR, including digital communications, has also emerged as a challenge for those working in the sector.

Beeton says, ”Actually pinpointing the effect PR has on sales, isolated from other communications, is very challenging but something clients demand in order to secure budgets.”

In-house communications professionals face the same dilemma of proving their worth to secure investment and resources.

“Our greatest responsibility and challenge is to continually demonstrate our impact on the business to senior executives,” says Andrew Woolnough, Vice President, Head of Corporate Communications CEMEA at Visa. Emphasising the strategic role of comms to the wider organisation needs constant attention for many in-house teams.” As most corporate activities have some form of ’communication’ attached to them, it’s sometimes a challenge to prioritize the most strategic, reputational, and impactful work, and push back on the non-strategic, often administrative work that the business can often demand, and which is harder to measure.”

The PRCA report shows confidence in measuring the ROI of digital comms is now on a par with confidence in the measurement of traditional PR. Previously, professionals had greater confidence in measuring the effectiveness of their digital techniques.

But despite the growth in digital technologies, professionals say brands are increasingly wary of their campaigns coming under attack. This suggests a need for more training in issues and crisis management as well as more robust and bullet-proof comms strategies.

Danny Whatmough, chair of the PRCA digital group and head of social for EMEA at Weber Shandwick, says, “We are marketing and communicating in a digital world and that requires both in-house professionals and agencies to change the way they work.”

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