The 2022 Asia-Pacific Communications Index today reveals that PR firms are becoming less integral to client work, with many Asia-Pacific in-house communications professionals questioning their return on investment, despite most using one or more. 

Conducted by the Asia-Pacific Association of Communication Directors (APACD) in conjunction with Ruder Finn Asia, the study — which polled more than 120 senior in-house communications executives (including APACD members) across the region — launched last week by reporting that in-house leaders are bullish about the communications function's prospects, as corporates emerge from the pandemic.

In the latest instalment, PRovoke Media focuses on the client-agency relationship, including insights into budgets, geography, servicing, effectiveness and more. More than 90% of respondents report that they retain an agency, with almost two-thirds (62%) using the services of multiple consultancies.  

Expenditure & evaluation

2022 Comms Index Q32

Of note for the consultancy sector, 53% of respondents say they could do their jobs without external PR support, up from 44% last year. And yet, comments submitted by respondents suggest a more nuanced view, with resourcing issues again coming out on top in terms of explaining agency retention. "Quantum of work is too much to manage solo, plus media relations and daily coordination," says one respondent. "Crucial for outside-in view and counsel," adds another, while a third says: "We are criminally understaffed. Absolutely could not function without our agency colleagues."

“The comments make clear what we at Ruder Finn have known for some time now," says Ruder Finn Asia regional director Elan Shou. "The key to unlocking genuine agency value is to work in total partnership with clients and create genuine solutions rather than just a focus on a consultancy's bottom line.

"For example, 90% of our relationships involve colleagues that are embedded with our clients, resulting in the kind of single team mentality that produces great work, sustainable relationships and builds client reputation and revenue. The better an agency becomes, the better our clients perform and the more value we add."

2022 CommsIndex Q28
When it comes to budgets, the largest proportion (21%) spends less than $50k per year on PR agency support, and more than four in 10 spend less than $150k. At the other end of the scale, around 20% spend more than $1m a year, a reasonably steep decline compared to last year. 

2022 CommsIndex Q29
2022 CommsIndex Q30

Most clients (60%) do not expect to change their PR agency spend this year, and there is a similar level of certainty about agency selection, with only 13% changing firms this year. 

2022 CommsIndex Q33
Like last year, there remains cause for concern when in-house communications leaders are asked whether PR firms are effective in measuring their value. One quarter (23%) are unconvinced, a reasonable improvement on the 30% result in 2021, but the sizeable majority (67%) only see them as being somewhat effective in terms of proving value, compared to 53% last year. Only one in 10 are confident of PR firm effectiveness. 

The open-ended responses to this question are revealing. "Lack of measurement mindset. Inertia to change to contemporary practices," says one client. Adds another: "They are great at collaborating on developing a measurement strategy. I would never leave it entirely to the agency to measure themselves, though."

Services & support

2022 CommsIndex Q26
Media relations continues to dominate in terms of PR agency services that are called on by clients, accounting for 80% of all responses. Crisis & issues management (53%) edges ahead of corporate reputation (48%) this year, and while the top three remains the same, there are interesting shifts further down the list. For example, brand activism jumps to fourth spot with 25%, ahead of social media, consumer marketing and influencer management (23% each).

Public affairs also drops, to 16% vs 28% last year, suggesting that more of this work is being handled in-house. And employee engagement and ESG both remain low at just 7% and 3%, respectively.