In most of the recent communication conferences that I attended, one common banter that I have heard taking precedence over all others, has been around the topic of PR measurement. Sometimes talked about loosely, sometime seriously, the questions I keep hearing are; how do we show value? How do we get a bang for the buck? How do we convince management to invest more on PR… so on and so forth? However, the fact remains, even after so much expert commentary by so called PR measurement gurus, it still remains an enigma for most of the PR practitioners.
The pace of change in the past decade has been significant. In a fast evolving business environment with multiple external stimuli impacting business performance, and with multiple disruptive modes of communications and platforms for data consumption by the stakeholders, the operative scope of a PR professional has favorably amplified. Today, we significantly impact multiple levers – corporate reputation, employee retention, crisis mitigation, sales, product brands, stock price, stakeholder engagement and many more. We as a PR community (and even Marketing, Finance, Strategy, Sales, HR and other functions) know it with conviction that PR works. Then, why do we seem so apologetic? It cannot be just the fact that we have not done enough PR for PR, the way we have done PR for other functions.
While musing over this paradox, only one question comes to my mind. Do we generally have that posture and talk the language that is understood by our business leadership or the C-suite. The language understood by them is most often based on numbers and the general phrases that work for them are “shift in perceptions”, “sales growth”, “brand preferences”, “Stock performance” or “ROI”. The disconnect happens when the hard working PR practitioner banters only about headlines, photographs, a busy tradeshow or any other efficiency parameters. To shift the needle, PR and communications professionals need to start talking a business language that resonates well with the management, and is impact or outcomes based.
One can debate that the outcomes approach becomes a bit ambiguous as business outcomes are generally the result of efforts by multiple functions. Also, I feel, PR is a very dynamic process, involves multiple variables and most often outcomes cannot be predetermined with a high level of confidence. So evaluating outcomes without any firm pre-determined goals (as in a sales target, based on statistical forecasting) may just seem like a retrospective performance review of tasks carried out. More so, if there are no benchmarks, they would be all the more useless.
PR industry hence, finds itself fumbling when it comes to establishing uniform, universally accepted measures which translates in to the larger question of how do we demonstrate value add towards the organizations growth. Hence, it is just a pity that most of the times ROI of millions of dollars spent on advertising are never questioned the way ROI on a fraction of that amount spent on PR is.
Perhaps the importance of a good communications department or a PR campaign is best understood by simply imagining what things would be like in its absence. With multiple stakeholders across businesses and geographies; within and outside the organization enabled by a global information landscape, the PR measurement conundrum can be complicated. Trying to quantify could be even more. Can one quantify the cost of reputation saved due to effective PR? Can we assign a monetary value to it or the frequent crises a PR team mitigates silently and claim it as the ROI?
I feel, the best way for a PR function to create and showcase value is to align its strategy to the top organizational goals, articulate business/brand related PR objectives in line with this strategy, set the expectations right with the C-suite by jointly agreeing on the objectives and measures of success for these objectives and then go all out to ensure that the objectives are met hence demonstrating maximum Return on Objectives (ROO).
I feel fairly bullish towards the adoption of a ROO approach for the following reasons:
- Crisp objectives are a strong foundation for any PR success story. Measures are easy to attach if one knows, “what success looks like”, “desired behavioral changes are” and other well-articulated objectives. Measuring progress against each objective then becomes more realistic and believable. A good approach for this could be to set clear PR objectives aligned to the corporate goals. Worked out in conjunction with the business leaders, they become co-owned and get tracked regularly. Understanding of the overall corporate / business goals and figuring out how PR can help fulfill them also puts PR in the strategic zone. The focus then shifts towards outcomes and not outputs of the PR team. Good part is that there are techniques available to evaluate PR with respect to corporate / brand goals viz. shift in perception, reputation, brand tracks, leads, and employer brand scores, just to mention a few.
- Course corrections, if needed can be done at every step of the PR process if step wise objectives are known and measured. This can lead to a better quality of final PR outcome. Monitoring and listening plays an important role in this. So apart from the qualitative analysis of the news clips, Share of Voice vis-à-vis identified competition set, key message delivery, appropriate audience and priority market segmentation, coverage in specific genre of media and endorsements by stakeholders are some more measures that can lead to an informed change in PR strategy. Innumerous tools and agencies, for tracking and monitoring traditional, online and new media are available easily.
- Measurement becomes easy as each objective is a standalone one with respective measures, collectively they lead to a larger PR success. A robust increase in the ROO’s (exceeding the PR goals) would eventually lead to a larger ROI contribution from the overall PR campaign – be it corporate or brand related.
- Lastly, as PR ROI means effect of PR on increasing revenue or profits, I personally feel, calculating it in real terms is not a straight equation.
So, while it is a no brainer that goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations, the question is, how many of us actually do robust goal setting before every campaign? Do we set objectives before every new PR blitz? If we do, then I feel, ROO (Return on Objectives) would be a much more significant measure than a vague ROI for PR. How can one measure just the PR ROI when the final organizational goal achievement could have been basis multiple approaches of communications, factors and other functions. There is a need to change the terminology. ROO can be that twist that can raise the bar and respect for PR.