BEIJING: The relationship between marketers and PR agencies in China is getting shorter and marketers now regard an agency's digital skills as increasingly important, new research has shown.

The biennial PR Agency Scope study from marketing consultancy R3 surveyed more than 150 marketers and corporate communications decision-makers and reported that the average length of a PR agency relationship was now 2.5 years, down from 2.9 years in 2015, according to The Holmes Report.

That contrasts with the general trend: previous R3 research has suggested that, because of fragmentation, marketers are looking to develop relationships with fewer, more trusted agency partners, and to stay with those partners for longer.

The study also noted that digital capabilities, previously of little consequence in the choice of agency, have become increasingly significant over the past two years.

In 2015, just 3.5% of marketers regarded these an important factor when choosing a PR agency, but 59% now do.

"We've never seen digital capabilities so high up in the list of important factors for selecting a PR agency," said Sabrina Lee, managing director of R3 China.

"It just shows that the massive shift in the marketing and advertising world has not passed over the PR discipline," she added.

Indeed, the top two changes taking place in the PR industry, according to the study, are that firms are "focusing more on digital/social communications", and on the "transition from traditional PR to digital PR".

But digital is far from being a top-ranking criteria when it comes to selecting an agency – people, press relations and credibility, strategic planning, and creativity are all ahead of it.

And a significant 43% of respondents felt it was better work with separate PR and digital agencies.

Data sourced from The Holmes Report; additional content by Warc staff