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Making the PR-to-Sales Connection: What’s Next in the ROI Equation?

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on and has been republished with permission. 

The advent of attribution analysis for earned media means that PR practitioners can answer one of the profession’s most elusive PR-ROI questions: How and to what degree does PR generate sales?

Indicators positively point to PR as marketing’s most efficient means of driving a sale. Although the relative volume of sales is lower than most other marketing channels, this is more a function of extraordinarily low levels of investment rather than an inability of PR to deliver.

In fact, when companies and brands increase their level of PR spending, there is no observable point of diminishing return. In other words, the more a brand invests in earned media, the more sales PR generates. This reaffirms what we in PR always believed in our hearts to be true: PR works. . .and it works in ways that other marketing communications channels envy.

Pieces in the PR-to-Sales Puzzle

Attribution technology applies digital watermarking to track consumer interaction with earned media content to tell us who says what, to whom, when, where and to what effect. In this way, attribution analysis combines with classical media content analysis to reveal who clicked on your article, for example, and what they did as a result:

  • Did they visit your website?
  • Did they download information?
  • Did they place an order?

At the same time, the technology uncovers consumer demographics and company firmographics, which enable better targeting and positioning to the media with the highest rate of desirable audience response. The outcome is greater PR efficiency and improved return-on-investment, as well as a better understanding among marketing decision-makers of PR’s unique power to drive sales.

What’s Next?

Having resolved the PR-to-sales puzzle, one must ask, what comes next? Beyond sales, we must strive for the bigger goal of positive and sustainable return on PR investment.

In PR, three elements contribute to a positive PR ROI:

  1. Sales is the sexiest, but it’s a fickle measure. If your competition offers a four-for-one promotion, no amount of PR (or advertising) will compensate in the short term.
  2. Efficiency is the most accessible measure in that everyone can work smarter. But efficiency is limited to the percentage of your already-small budget one can classify as identifiable waste to be eliminated.
  3. Avoiding catastrophic cost is the most impactful metric, as the effects of a crisis can amount to billions of dollars in market cap losses. If, however, well-managed companies never encounter a crisis, how do we quantify the value of mitigation?

Among the contributions executives associate with PR that are generally accepted by PR pros, reputation provides a powerful foundation for sustainable, manageable and predictable business impact. A good reputation acts as both a sword and a shield for the long term, offering distinct and wide-ranging advantages. Companies with good reputations usually:

  • Command premium prices from consumers
  • Pay lower prices to vendors
  • Attract and retain top talent
  • Experience greater loyalty
  • Generate more stable revenues
  • Face lower risk of crisis (and a faster path to recovery if a crisis is unavoidable)
  • Are given greater latitude by constituents
  • Enjoy higher market valuations and stock price
  • Experience greater loyalty among investors (and thus less volatile stock prices)

A company’s reputation casts either a halo or a shadow over it. In addition, reputation goes beyond ROI (and more than either sales, efficiency or crisis-avoidance alone).

A good reputation ensures that the enterprise enjoys benefits over organizations that lack it; organizations with bad reputations risk everything.

As Ben Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

An Ideal Reputation

Ideally, a good reputation exists among all stakeholders and across multiple reputation attributes to achieve a strong positive standing for the company overall. For example, organizations that generate a strong ROI (profitability) may enjoy a good reputation among investors.

To ensure investor satisfaction, however, they may engage in low-cost off-shoring to countries with less rigorous safety standards, which results in criticism.

Similarly, in an effort to do good, organizations may sacrifice some profit by giving back to the community. In addition, they might offer a wage higher than the minimum to earn good standing among employees and other stakeholders.

A PR Challenge: Shared Reputation

One challenge for PR is that while the responsibility for protecting reputation may reside with corporate communication, building the organization’s good standing is a shared responsibility across the enterprise.

Everyone influences reputation: finance must pay bills on time and promptly issue accurate and timely invoices; manufacturing must produce quality products; and leadership must chart a course of transparency, honesty and corporate social responsibility as well as fiscal responsibility.

Corporate reputation management enables communicators to contribute sustainable, manageable and predictable benefits for the enterprise.

By sustainable, we mean that the positive effects of reputation enable a company to reinforce an advantage or weather a storm.

By manageable, we mean that the professional communicator owns the tools and expertise to influence stakeholder perceptions of, and attitudes toward, an organization or brand in a positive direction.

By predictable, we refer to a PR pro’s ability to help create the future the organization seeks through continuous measurement, analysis and improvement.

The benefits of a good reputation provide a firmer foundation for success that go beyond PR’s ability to generate sales in the short term. By marrying positive, differentiated reputation messaging with highly visible earned media visibility, PR reinforces the trust and loyalty that sustains profitability over time.