10 Questions You Need to Answer as the 2020 Budgeting Season Beckons

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

Along with Measurement Month, it’s the time of year when PR evaluation and funding questions arise for 2020. Executives who invest in PR are becoming more discriminating, so we must clearly make our case using the language of the boardroom, not just the language of PR. 

Further complicating matters, beyond past accomplishments, we need to communicate what could be gained through the use of additional resources. Despite new technology that enable almost everyone to produce data, charts and reports, proving the value of PR endures as one of the profession’s most vexing challenges. 

One difficulty with proving business value is that values are subjective. What’s more, values change not only from organization to organization, but from person to person within the same organization. As such, the first step in communicating PR value in is to uncover the often secret value system extant among the executives involved in planning, funding and evaluating your program. After that, address points they consider top priorities. 

A Systematic Approach 

As you prepare for 2020, try a systematic approach to discover the ways your internal clients define PR success and the extent to which you’re achieving it now. 

Structured one-on-one conversations with internal stakeholders will reveal preferences and expectations by which you will be later evaluated. Having an objective third party conduct such conversations is preferable. 

Questions may include those which probe: best PR measures (from clipping volume to revenue generation); how you’re performing on these measures vs. competitors; top media; top journalists; key competitors; contribution to overall business objectives and so on. 

The keys to success: gather, aggregate and analyze individual responses to find common ground; share the aggregate findings with the individual executives involved; and negotiate your way to a more reasonable and meaningful consolidated central position. 

For example, if 20 executives are involved in budgeting and performance, it’s much better to focus on four “core” measures all agree on than to try to satisfy 20 individual preferences. Attain authorization on the final measures and begin with the confidence that comes with knowing the most direct path. 

Ten Questions to Ask 

What follows are ten questions you can reasonably expect to answer when determining your delivery of PR value. Your executives or clients may not have asked these yet, but if you know the questions and how to answer them (or better yet, ask them of yourself), you are more likely to enjoy the benefits of long-lasting positive relationships with stakeholders. 

  1. Did we meet or exceed measurable objectives? Every PR investment decision-maker deserves to know whether the program met or beat its goal(s). Assuming that reasonable and measurable objectives were set at the outset, this is among the easiest performance measures to deliver. 
  2. Did we outperform our competitors? This measure requires no particular knowledge of PR to attribute value. In a media-driven program, for example, you might consider a way to compare “share-of-voice” to “market-share:” if your share-of-voice is the greater of the two, you’ve probably generated more than your fair share. 
  3. Did we deliver our key messages? To what extent did unintended messaging interfere? It’s more common to track the delivery of intended messages…but “unintended messages” (negative or off-topic themes) can neutralize or even overwhelm what’s intended. Track both to show full context. 
  4. Did we reach our target audiences? PR has evolved to be highly targeted. Increasing awareness among lower value audiences is a poor use of resources. It’s best to focus on the target audience and the media it reads, watches and listens to. Results should reflect the extent to which the total audience was comprised of the target. 
  5. How has the competitive landscape changed? Competitive activity can impact your results, for better or worse. As you interpret the results of your program, consider the following: What PR and marketing initiatives were undertaken during the span of your campaign? Did they influence your PR performance? 
  6. What was the effect on awareness? Understanding? Behavior? It is reasonable to expect PR to do more than drive media coverage. Influencing the perceptions and attitudes of your target audience sets the stage for more meaningful business outcomes, such as increases in sales or stock price. 
  7. Are we generating a positive return on our PR investment? Is our PR driving revenue? Leading to greater efficiency and lower cost? Avoiding costs altogether?Connecting PR to sales is a compelling value equation. In the past, this was difficult and expensive but now, given new technology developments for PR attribution, it’s accessible to most PR programs (PRN, October, 2019). 
  8. Did PR meet or exceed relative efficiency when compared to other marketing disciplines? Improved efficiency over past performance is an important gauge of continual improvement, comparing your PR’s efficiency with that of other marketing agents can provide helpful context. It’s not unusual for PR to deliver the best ROI within the marketing mix, but if you want to benchmark internally, it’s important to have the buy-in of others with whom you’ll be referencing (as well as the measures by which you’ll be compared). 
  9. What worked, what didn’t and how do we improve? Measurement should not be viewed as a scorecard but rather as a tutor. Opportunities for learning and continual refinement abound. And it’s hard to imagine a CEO who wouldn’t respect the desire of staff to learn from mistakes and improve programs that under-performed. 
  10. What do we do next? Beyond telling you what happened and how you performed, your measurement activities should tell you something about why, what to do about it and in what sequence. 

Three Criteria 

Ideally, the criteria that shape your PR value model will meet three targets. They should be reasonable, meaningful and measurable within the broader context of budget, type of campaign, duration of the campaign and more. 

So while generating a high volume of coverage is reasonable and measurable, most executives agree that it is not particularly meaningful. And while generating sales is extremely meaningful, doing so can be expensive and, therefore, not as “reasonable” as other measures. 

Typically, three or four measures will emerge as those upon which executives can agree. The most common “winners” include delivering key messages in target media, raising awareness, and meeting or exceeding objectives. To optimize value and reduce risk, be certain to maintain consistent and open communication with your key executives to share findings and seek agreement. 

OK, so you think it’s too late to alter your 2019 plans for 2020. Fine. The best time to uncover your value equation probably was a few years ago. The next best time? Now. 

About Mark Weiner

Mark Weiner is the Chief Insights Officer for Cision, a member of the Arthur Page Society, an advisor for The University of Florida Public Relations Advisory Council, and a trustee for the Institute for Public Relations for which he also chairs the Commission on Measurement and Evaluation. Mark is the 2018 recipient of the Institute for Public Relations Jack Felton Medal for Lifetime Achievement.

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