Opinion: Improving PR's value by proving our value

Opinion: Improving PR’s value by proving our value

To mark the publication of Platinum, a book from the CIPR with crowdsourced insight from industry leaders, Cision is publishing a chapter from AMEC chairman Richard Bagnall discussing how analytics and measurement provide the means of improving the performance and value of public relations.

Richard Bagnall

The era of PR being focused on media relations are long gone. Today’s PR professional needs to be able to operate across all the areas that are critical to modern communications – being skilled in each part of the so-called paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) model. Delivering effective integrated work is critical for success.

Monitoring and measurement has also changed beyond all recognition.

A massive influx of venture capital into the sector has driven development, innovation and consolidation. Many of the original monitoring and analysis companies have been acquired and merged to form large integrated businesses offering multiple services. Vast quantities of content can be sourced in close to real time and categorised and coded by software rather than humans.

Charts and dashboards, alerts, summaries and reports are made available through interactive online portals, sometimes without any human input at all.

While these portals certainly have the wow-factor, many are still hamstrung by one critical issue which has remained constant. In most cases, they are still focused on counting and analysing the content alone from which they then attempt to derive all meaning and value.

Their focus is on counting the metrics that are easy to count and which can be gleaned from the online and social platforms. Yet these very metrics have been shown to be open to abuse, fraud and manipulation, and far too easy to gain and to cheat.

These easy to count content metrics are having their relevance, meaning and value questioned in ways never before seen.

“We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency,” said Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever.

Weed was following on from a major speech made by his opposite number, Mark Pritchard of Proctor and Gamble, who had said:

“We’ve been giving a pass to the new media in the spirit of learning. We’ve come to our senses. We realise there is no sustainable advantage in a complicated, non-transparent, inefficient and fraudulent media supply chain.”

When the two CMOs of the world’s largest marketing organisations essentially make the same point, the industry needs to wake up and take notice. Advertising’s planning, buying and measurement sectors are doing this. Now it’s time for the PR and communications industry to do the same.

How best can communicators prove their value when so much is changing?

The first thing we need to do is understand that measuring the content analysis or output metrics alone no longer suffices.

These output metrics are the ones that are frequently also called vanity metrics – the likes, shares, retweets, views, impressions, opportunities to see etc. They are also the metrics to which the two CMOs mainly refer.

Importantly, we should not abandon these metrics in their entirety, but rather see them for what they are – little more than a score or and index where a larger number is usually better than a smaller one. They should be considered the digital breadcrumbs that point the way to the metrics that matter most to our organisations.

Those metrics are the stakeholder out-takes (what people are thinking) and ‘outcomes’ (what people are doing) that the work of the communicator can help to support and deliver.

These need to be mapped to organisational objectives. Not many organisations task their communications departments with achieving ‘X’ retweets, ‘Y’ video views, or ‘Z’ likes on Facebook.

Instead objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) while also focused on supporting the organisation’s goals.

Proving value as communicators therefore involves not just counting the outputs that are generated but also showing how that work has driven change in both the out-takes and outcomes too. This needs to be done across each of the PESO channels within which PR operates.

Global communications measurement trade association AMEC recently produced the definitive resource and guide detailing exactly how to do this.

The Integrated Evaluation Framework and resource centre has been translated into 20 languages and is in use in communications departments all around the world. It works for organisations of any size, irrespective of budget.

It shows how to set a clear plan, align objectives, set relevant targets and then measure appropriately. If you’re not currently basing your measurement approach on the framework, I urge you to take a look.

Future proofing PR measurement

For all of the advancements that have occurred in evaluation driven by the disruption to the media and PR industry, there is still some way to go. Things to watch out for in the future include:

  • Predictive analytics, where we will be able to forecast in advance what is the likely outcome of a tactic at our disposal.
  • Improved machine learning helping automation genuinely replace the role of human coders / analysts and further speed up the whole process.
  • Integration of communications measurement with that of other marketing and business data sets.
  • Greater focus in measurement on the role of PR in search optimisation.
  • Ongoing drive to value the intangibles assets of organisations such as reputation that PR helps to foster.

The measurement and evaluation of communications has come a long way. It will remain a dynamic critical sector for many years to come. Here’s to the next 70 years.

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