LONDON — UK companies only slightly upped their digital marketing spend during the last year, reportedly losing confidence in the ability to measure the ROI on their investment in online engagement.

The 2017 PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report, released Tuesday, found companies’ confidence in the ability to measure digital PR dropped to 63%, down 10% year-over-year. The survey polled 216 agency executives along with 146 people from in-house communications departments.

That’s the same level of confidence respondents, which include in-house and agency executives, have in the ability to measure the ROI of traditional PR, according to the report. This is the fifth such report, the annual barometer PRCA produces in partnership with YouGov to track PR’s digital performance.

That dip in confidence was reflected in the relatively small increase in brands’ digital marketing spend, which rose to 27% from 25%.  That’s a far smaller increase than was reported last year, when digital marketing spends rose to 25% from just 16% in 2015.

A majority of in-house execs (55%), however, said they expect digital budgets to increase during the next 12 months. Just 4% reported an expected decrease.

The bulk of the money is going to video-based content, image-based content and online advertising, the report found. Community management, monitoring, web development and social strategy were among the areas whose budgets were cut.

Also during the last year, PR agencies are being used more frequently as content creators. The purchasing of video-based content has risen by 10% to 13%. The purchasing of image-based content has risen by 5% to 11%; and the use of text-based content has risen by 7% to 11%.

PR and communications agencies were also hired to conduct more social influencer outreach, and paid social media activity.

Brands, however, are becoming increasingly wary of the downside of social media. Fears of reputational attack on social media are causing more clients than ever before to tone down their activities, the report found. 

“We live in complex times," said PRCA digital group chairman and Weber Shandwick EMEA head of social Danny Whatmough. "We are now marketing and communicating in a digital world and that requires both in-house professionals and agencies to change the way they work. That means over the next 12 months we will see more talk of integration and collaboration in the content creation space.

"We will see a movement away from traditional offerings such as web build and a move towards chatbots, social messaging and AI. The Digital PR and Communications Report shows that the PR industry is leading the charge in many areas, but this is not a time for complacency. The industry needs to continue to evolve to compete."