Way back in 1998, as a sales engineer with direct sales targets, when marketing tried to claim credit for a good deal, I would go out of my way to attack it. The hard work and toil was all mine; how could a mere marketing campaign win an order! When after a few years I moved in to marketing communications and branding, my struggle started with the PR team, who even then were attempting to prove their contribution of having created a good perception. How could I give credit to them; after all, the creative idea and insights came from my work, they just did a press release and a launch conference. When I worked in the strategy team, I came from a thirty thousand feet view and a long term attitude, yet, got some acclaim as the top management had a direct hand. The PR team was still talking tactical events and press release dissemination and coverage. Now in 2019, when I lead communications for an amazing conglomerate with innumerable businesses and brands, am I still witnessing the same battles? To be honest, even in this world of integrated communications, the conundrum exists and the function that is proactive, has the right posture, positivity and performance metrics walks away with the cake!
Well, just like other functions, the Pace of change for PR 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 favourably 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.
However, in most of the communication conferences that I have attended globally, one common banter that I have heard taking precedence over all others, has been around the topic of PR effectiveness 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 ample expert commentary by so called PR measurement gurus, it still remains an enigma for most of the PR practitioners. The absence of robust, uniform, industry-accepted norms for PR deliverables does pose questions around its effectiveness. To make matters worse, we have some heroes who still peddle the lost narrative of AVE’s as deliverables!
I feel businesses will respect PR more if the professionals demonstrate three P’s – A Proactive approach, Posturing with authenticity, and using the language of Performance for demonstrating impact rather than anecdotal measures. I will try and articulate it.
Ask yourselves; do we generally talk the language that is understood by our business leadership or the C-suite. The language understood by these reviewers 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 which are a basic given today. I would reckon, all the qualitative (SOV, Tonality, Coverage, Reach etc.) and quantitative (Correlation with viewership, press release hit ratio etc.) measures that have been written about significantly are all important and necessary and need to be tracked together. However, 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 (Positive disposition, increase in footfalls, increase in stock price, rise in sales etc.).
Having said this, I do have an issue with purely outcomes based measurements too! As final outcomes can be due to efforts by multiple functions. So how do we as PR create that niche and say, here’s where we move the needle? In the next column, I shall discuss the issues of trying to quantify everything that PR does and how simply setting goals and expectations correctly could be a better solution in delivering and proving value.