The results from R3’s 2020 China PR Agency Scope study show that even though agency-client relationships have increased in duration by one-year since 2018, PR partners need to show their ability to strategically apply data and master new media platforms.

“Marketers are more demanding of their PR agencies and have higher expectations, with 35% providing active feedback,” said Sabrina Lee, Managing Director of R3 China. “For agencies that have shown their capability and commitment, the door is open for increased scope of work.”

The latest edition of the study also revealed that SKI-II, Tencent and Huawei were ranked as producing the best PR campaigns over the last two years, and Ruder Finn and Blue Digital were ranked the top two PR agencies in China best demonstrating active transformation.

R3’s China PR Agency Scope is a biannual survey exploring the state of client-agency relationships in the field of public relations. The most recent wave interviewed 121 senior executives from 109 companies working with China-based PR agencies. 139 relationships were analyzed for this edition of the report.

Strong in Brand Strategy & Integration

More than half of survey respondents reported that their PR agencies scope of work included event and experiential marketing, as well as influencer and digital marketing, with 15% involved in customer relationship management, and 20% in IP sponsorship and e-commerce.

This reflects the opinion that compared with other types of agencies, PR agencies are more able to think and plan from a holistic perspective, leading to better strategy and integration. This is also an important reason why PR agencies tend to be invited to brand-level pitches.

“Aside from traditional PR scope of work, like media and government liaison, the capability to handle digital and social marketing gives PR agencies an advantage in today’s media landscape,” says Lee. “How they use data and technology to drive performance will separate the agencies that can expand their client relationships from those who might lose work to more specialized partners, or even in-house capability.”

Technology Is Key to Transformation

The integration of technology and new media platforms poses both challenges and opportunities for marketers and their PR agencies. 21% of study participants reported that the ability to understand and co-operate with media platforms will be the key to transformation in the PR industry in China.

“Investment in the right kinds of technology and having talent that can translate data insights into strategy will be important as marketers want fast responses based on accurate data,” said Lee. “A pitfall to be aware of is over-investing in innovations that don’t deliver return.”

Talent Continues to Be a Critical Issue

Focusing on areas of core competence will help PR agencies solidify their roles and make smarter talent acquisitions, as marketers (9.5%) find more ways to bring capability in-house.

International agencies fared better in overall performance in this wave of the survey, though when it came to more tactical execution around e-commerce, social media and digital marketing, local agencies were commended for their abilities. 47% of survey participants rated local agencies as being more proactive and able to deliver breakthrough creative thinking, while 49% believed that multinational agencies were better able to provide integrated services and crisis management (48%).