Influencer outreach budgets drop 12% according to a new report. Communicators need to get better at measuring and evaluating influencer marketing programmes.


Blogger outreach and social influencer outreach have seen the biggest budget cuts in the last year according to the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA)’s annual Digital PR and Communications Report. Blogger budgets fell by 9% whilst influencer budgets dropped 12%. This is despite the popularity of influencers more widely. 

The report shows similar bad news in terms of budget cuts for text-based content (-11%) and image-based content (-10%).

The sixth annual PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report, sponsored and produced in partnership with Ginger Research, provides a benchmark of how the PR industry is performing with digital communications.

I went to the London launch of the PRCA report. Lisa Carr MPRCA, Director, Lansons, revealed key findings on home turf at the Lansons offices. Lisa then led a panel discussion between

  • Toby Gunton MPRCA, General Manager, Edelman
  • Marshall Manson, Partner, Brunswick
  • Abby Guthkelch, Co-founder, Not Another Agency Ltd

A sizable chunk of the panel discussion was given over to thoughts on influencer marketing and, specifically, whether the social influencer bubble had burst.

My view is that influencer advertising and influencer marketing are being conflated as terms. It is possible that the transactional influencer advertising may have reached a high-water mark. Not so for influencer marketing.

In the past six months, both trade and mainstream media have reported on - and swelled - an influencer backlash. It is difficult to determine whether the 12% drop in influencer outreach budgets is a correction or a long-term direction of travel using only the PRCA report headline figures.

Danny Whatmough CMPRCA, PRCA Digital Group Chairman and Managing Director, Integrated Media, Weber Shandwick, referred to the drop as a ‘levelling out’ in the accompanying launch press release. This seems more likely.

Could the influencer outreach budget decrease be a sign of budgets moving in-house and away from agencies? Perhaps not, this year, the report shows PR and communications departments have taken clear ownership over digital and social media content. Over 57% of respondents say that the majority of their digital and social media content is produced by the PR and communications department. This represents a 12% increase since 2016 and 2017.

To make more sense of the 12% drop in influencer marketing budgets you would need to know how long the PRCA has been tracking budget spend on influencer outreach as part of its annual Digital PR and Communications Report.

The report shows a negative shift in last year’s figures. What were budgets like in 2016? Did the report even track influencer outreach before 2016?

It is possible that last year there was a big spike in influencer marketing enthusiasm by practitioners who didn’t yet possess the relevant skill set to effectively plan, execute and measure its impact. Now burned by poor results these practitioners may be reticent to spend on influencers again. A case of a bad workman blaming his tools?

Have influencer budgets now been normalised? Or is more work needed to educate communicators in the full influencer marketing workflow? This suggestion might be borne out by the response to the survey question about training: 'when asked which areas they needed more education in, in-house respondents cited social influencer outreach (39%), social network strategy (24%)'.

Influencer budget drops counter to other surveys

The PRCA report figures showing a 12% drop in influencer budgets runs counter to other industry surveys. According to Launchmetrics brands raised their budgets for influencer campaigns by between 3% and 6% last year.

Three-quarters (75%) of national advertisers in the US make use of influencer marketing and they are reported to be so pleased with the discipline that 43% of them expect to increase their spending on it over the next 12 months according to WARC figures.

PR & Comms agencies & how they're being used

Despite the percentage drop working with influencers remains a key service demanded by clients says the PRCA report. Blogger outreach (40%) and social media outreach (also 40%) remain the prevalent services clients expect PR and communications agencies to deliver. Though these percentages are also down on last year (from 49% and 56% respectively).

Influencer marketing: the wider view

Influencer marketing is maturing as a discipline. Like many nascent industries, it suffers growing pains as well as growth spurts. Public relations practitioners should not be dismissive of the use influencers. Rather we should learn how to master the workflow accordingly.

Last week a PR agency sued an Instagram influencer for breach of contract. This court case is an important milestone in the maturation of the discipline. PR practitioners and influencers alike who seek to professionalise the discipline and demonstrate real value will enjoy a successful and profitable future. Those that don’t will find themselves in need of a new career path.

With increased influencer marketing scepticism comes a greater need to demonstrate value return on investment (ROI). Accurate data and robust, independent campaign performance evaluation, along with industry benchmarking, will become a fundamental part of the influencer marketing campaign planning process.

Influencer audiences will increasingly demand higher-quality sponsored content from the creators they follow, too.

Fail to deliver either and the business model collapses for both brand and influencer.

Influencer marketing: leading with measurement

The influencer marketing industry should lead with measurement. A new report by Traackr & Altimeter explains “metrics evolve as a result of programs that start to focus on business impact. As such, strategies, teams and workflows adapt to perform against these desired metrics … .  As influence marketing matures, challenges to measure performance decline. As brands see the impact of influencer marketing initiatives throughout the customer journey, the pressure is on to develop sophisticated, measurable programs capable of supporting large-scale strategies.

“The challenge facing organizations is to develop an influencer marketing practice that aligns with overarching business strategy while ensuring leadership has the data and reporting framework required to evaluate success and prioritize spending” [page 41: The 2018 State of Influence report].

More about the Digital and Communications PR Report 2018

The Digital and Communications PR Report 2018 reveals:

  • Where the PR and Communications industry’s digital strengths lie
  • How brands are responding to digital
  • The kind of digital help that brands are calling for, and how PR and Communications agencies are responding
  • The attitudes of the boardroom towards digital communications
  • How specific social media platforms are being used and the ROI from using them
  • Changing needs for training in digital

Report Methodology

Ginger Research partnered with PRCA to survey 384 agency and in-house PR professionals across business services, finance and banking, technology and telecoms, charities and NGOs, Government and other sectors. In-house respondents include directors of marketing/ comms, heads of marketing/ comms, head of press/PR. Agency respondents include CEOs, MDs, Partners and Directors.

You can access the PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report here.

Editor's note:

The PRCA responded to my requests for further information about the survey. The PRCA started recording spend on influencers in 2013 but combined blogger and influencer outreach until 2016 when the survey separated them into different categories.

Here is a breakdown of how digital report respondents say they apportion influencer outreach as part of their overall budget:

  • 2016: 39% of respondents used their budget on influencer outreach
  • 2017: 32% of respondents used their budget on influencer outreach
  • 2018: 20% of respondents used their budget on influencer outreach

51% of respondents state their budgets will increase in the next 12 months, compared to 62% in 2016. 34% expect digital budgets will remain constant.

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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