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3 Steps to Measuring PR’s Business Impact

Why isn’t the PR profession as respected as it should be? I read this question in an article on Fortune and I found it very provocative. So much so that I asked some PR professionals the same open-ended question to gauge their response:

“We need to equate public relations with personal relations, in the sense that a company should establish and conduct personal relations with individual stakeholders or stakeholder groups. Only then will we be able to avoid the all-too-familiar spectacles of public relations done poorly – companies staying quiet when they should speak to reassure their audiences in case of a public crisis for example, or speaking out of turn when they should rather stay quiet.” – Ancita Satija

“A targeted public relations strategy can create significant consumer demand resulting in immediate sales and customer awareness for a product and brand. A targeted PR approach will require a brand to think about how to talk about a brand or product in a number of ways, to several different types of outlets. A well-rounded public relations campaign will require multiple pitch angles to several outlets. One size fits all will not work. Public relations efforts can help accomplish advertising & sales goals, and help amplify marketing strategy & messages. PR can have a greater impact on the sales and brand awareness for a company, for a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.” – Jen Berson

“It is ironic that the PR industry, which at its heart is responsible for managing reputation, has ever since its inception suffered from a reputation problem itself. The predominant view of the industry is a negative one that is closely aligned with embellished figures and notions of ‘spin’ – but the real truth is that PR practitioners are chiefly concerned with managing both the communication and relationships between a firm and its publics. As such, it is a profession that serves a valuable function, especially in the age of two-way communication that now exists with the rise of social media.” – Ben Veal

By and large, the article concurred with every one of these points. But the larger thesis was this:

The PR profession isn’t as respected as it should be because we do a poor job of quantifying PR’s financial impact to the bottom line.

You can accept or reject that assessment, but there is a lot of evidence to support this viewpoint:

I’m not arguing that people aren’t measuring PR, but it seems that most businesses aren’t using metrics that tie PR to corporate goals. Gregory Galant (who wrote the Fortune piece) points out that PR practitioners may make 59 percent of the salary of their marketing counterparts, a pretty shocking revelation about how PR is viewed relative to other disciplines. What I want to do in this piece is to focus on the three elements in your PR planning that will help to quantify PR’s contribution to the overall business objectives:

  1. Defining roles and responsibilities
  2. Deciding what and how to measure
  3. Review and adjustment

1. Defining roles and responsibilities

Defining Roles - Measureing PR

“The purpose of every public relations professional is to help his or her organization achieve its business objectives.” – Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research

In an article in Forbes, PR expert Mark Wynne discusses the many responsibilities of a PR practitioner:

  • Write and distribute press releases
  • Speech writing
  • Write pitches (less formal than press releases) about a firm and send them directly to journalists
  • Create and execute special events designed for public outreach and media relations
  • Conduct market research on the firm or the firm’s messaging
  • Expansion of business contacts via personal networking or attendance and sponsoring at events
  • Copy writing and blogging for the web (internal or external sites)
  • Crisis public relations strategies
  • Social media promotions and responses to negative opinions online

These are great, but in how many circumstances are these accurate? PR may be responsible for social and have a customer service and marketing aspect to that function. PR may be responsible for content creation which has overlap in multiple professional disciplines. The lines of PR are oftentimes quite indistinguishable from other arms of a business, so defining responsibilities is key. Ben Veal explains how digital media prohibits some of the PR specialization that occurred in the past:

“Public relations has a valuable role to play in helping organizations to increase their market share, but it must not be delivered with a silo mindset; it is essential to integrate activity with other marcomms disciples, especially in the age of social”

PR expert Johna Burke discusses how defining inter-disciplinary responsibilities can help to show PR’s value to the overall business. She says that in addition to understanding all of an organization’s communication channels it is paramount to have “correlating points” that tie PR to other functions. For example publishing a piece of content that has a call to action for customer service. By identifying responsibilities and correlating points, you can engineer measurement tools that help to quantify PR’s impact to the ambient goals of the organization.

2. Deciding what and how to measure

Measure PR - Knowing What to Measure

“Buffett found it ‘extraordinary’ that academics studied such things. They studied what was measurable, rather than what was meaningful. ‘As a friend [Charlie Munger] said, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” ― Roger Lowenstein, from Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist

PR expert Shonali Burke says that oftentimes businesses try to make their measurements fit their strategy instead of first determining what needs to be measured and developing a strategy and tactics around that:

“Instead of looking at what we are trying to achieve and starting at the end, identifying our goals and objectives and working backwards from there, we instead start to put together the strategy, put together the tactics, and then try to fit measurement into that little puzzle.”

She suggests starting with two simple questions:

  • What are you trying to do?
  • Why is it important?

Then consider how communication helps reach these objectives. This is a similar sentiment to Johna Burke’s thoughts on “correlating points” tied to calls to action. By understanding the bigger picture, everyone’s responsibilities within it and how they tie together, you can engineer measurements to gauge the effectiveness of each tactic relative to the greater good. This could range in sophistication from digital tracking to asking a customer “how did you hear about us?” Businesses would also be wise to heed Shonali’s warning about what tools to use for measuring their objectives: “Use only the tools you need.”

3. Reviewing and adjusting

Reviewing and Adjusting - PR Measurement

“Twice and thrice over, as they say, good is it to repeat and review what is good.” – Plato

We’ve all been asked whether you would rather get a dollar a day for 30 days or get a penny the first day which doubles every subsequent day for 30 days. At the end of 30 days a dollar per day gets you 30 dollars. The value of a penny that gains 100 percent of its value every day for 30 days ends up totaling $5.37 million. I use this story to illustrate the fact that small changes can have a very huge impact over time. In fact, I wrote a recent article describing how small productivity changes (seconds every day) can give you more than two weeks of extra time every year. Reviewing goals quarterly is probably not enough. Small adjustments made to PR campaigns, social campaigns, marketing, et cetera can have big impact in the long term. PR Principle Alan Brooks recommends reviewing objectives monthly, quarterly and annually, and this is a pretty common recommendation although even four weeks could be too long for some circumstances.


Fireworks - PR Measurement You’ve seen that the best, most manageable metrics are created when all roles are clearly defined within an organization, and the overall strategy has been developed from the endstate backwards. Measurement can then be engineered into the process and can quantify roles relative to “big picture” business objectives. That said, this type of collaboration and strategy is difficult and somewhat counterintuitive. It’s easier to be unaccountable, or accountable to something abstract. But in the words of writer Robert Heinlein:

“If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.”

Tags : measurement

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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