LONDON: Digital media is taking an increased share of PR spending in the UK, a trend that will require the development of new tools to prove the payback on this investment.

PRWeek, the industry title, and Brands2Life, the agency, recently surveyed leading communications directors in the country.

Overall, 12% of contributors had seen their budgets for 2010 trimmed by at least 20%, with 41% facing a contraction of up to 20%, and 22% witnessing no change year-on-year.

A quarter of executives actually had more resources at their disposal, and 69% of participants thought funding would remain stable or expand going forward.

The vast majority said measuring the effectiveness of campaigns was of vital importance, with 79% having "ring-fenced" their expenditure in this area.

At present, the level of media interest generated is the most widely-used method for establishing ROI, on 60%, with monitoring metrics like brand awareness on 47%.

Elsewhere, "advertising value equivalents", which compare the amount of coverage with the cost of paying for this publicity, delivered a total of 39%.

Lauren Branston, communications director for Coca-Cola, said: "We've … got much sharper about measuring how people receive messages about our brands and how that interacts with what they hear about Coca-Cola as a company."

"Coca-Cola marketers can produce a one-number score for the effectiveness of advertising, so it's really important that communications can operate to the same standard."

Running successful digital campaigns was named as a primary goal by 64% of respondents, with new media channels now taking 19% of PR expenditure, rising from 15% in 2009 and 13% in 2008.

Some 45% of the sample used clickthroughs to ascertain the online buzz that had resulted from their digital efforts.

In terms of current strategic focus, 44% of those polled were seeking to leverage search engine optimisation, with paid-for search on 41%.

Social media is also gaining in popularity, with First Direct having built a dedicated "newsroom" which allows netizens to add their own comments, alongside a Flickr feed and Twitter account.

"This means we post far more content than we ever used to push out on press releases, although as it's now posted on Twitter it is less obtrusive, which automatically raises us up the search rankings," said Amanda Brown, PR and communications manager at First Direct.

Over 25% of companies made redundancies last year, but Heather Dickinson, head of European PR at Cisco, said the fall in its headcount from ten to five had actually been beneficial.

"I honestly think we wouldn't need to return to our previous staffing levels; the recession has forced us to work much more efficiently," she said.

"We move faster now and, with the help of our agency … We've become more nimble and proactive."

Data sourced from PRWeek; additional content by Warc staff