As we enter the high season of planning for 2016, we must recognize that the executives who invest in PR have become more discriminating when evaluating our performance. The challenge to prove the value of what we do may feel more acute during budget season, but communicating PR’s value is a year-round challenge.
One of the difficulties in proving PR’s value, of course, is rooted in the fact that value is subjective. And value changes from organization to organization and from person to person within the same organization. As such, the first step in delivering PR value is uncovering the often secret value system extant among those who plan, fund and evaluate PR.
For this reason, it is wise to take a systematic approach to discovering how your clients, internal or external, define PR success. Structured one-on-one conversations, with an objective third party facilitating them, will reveal preferences and expectations of your evaluators. Through this process, the preferences of 20 executives may be distilled to three or four, improving the likelihood that PR value is aligned among those who control PR planning, budgets and evaluation.
Below are questions you may be expected to answer when determining the success or failure of a PR program—and some tips to help you answer them.
Did We Meet or Exceed Objectives? Every PR investment decision-maker deserves to know whether the program met or beat its goal. Of course, this requires that reasonable and measurable objectives were agreed upon at the onset.
Did We Outperform Competitors? In a media-driven program, for example, you might consider a way to compare share-of-voice to market-share; if share-of-voice is the greater of the two, you’ve probably generated more than your fair share versus competitors.
Did We Deliver Key Messages? Was There Interference? It’s more common to track the delivery of intended messages, but negative or off-topic themes can neutralize or overwhelm what’s intended. Track both and show the full context.
Was the Coverage Prominent? Was It Seen? Frequency and content are important, but there are other factors that can increase the likelihood for awareness and recall, including: the presence of brand names in headlines; visuals; and the size or length of the news item.
Did We Reach Our Target Audiences? PR has become highly targeted. Increasing awareness among low-value audiences is a poor use of resources. It’s best to focus on the target audience, the media it reads, watches and listens to. Results should reflect the extent to which the total audience was comprised of the target.
How Has the Landscape Changed? Competitive activity can influence results. As you interpret results, consider: What PR and marketing initiatives were undertaken during the span of your campaign? Did they impact your performance?
What was the Effect on Awareness? Understanding? Behavior? It is reasonable to expect to do more than drive media coverage: Influencing perceptions and attitudes can lead to sales growth and an improved stock price.
Are We Generating a Positive ROI? Is PR Driving Revenue? While connecting PR to sales or stock price can be sexy, it’s difficult. It’s reasonable to expect PR to deliver positive results—regardless of what those results are—efficiently. Striving to generate increasingly higher levels of performance within a set budget always is desirable and recognizable as a form of positive ROI.
Did We Exceed Relative Efficiency When Compared to Other Marketing Disciplines? Improved efficiency over past performance is an important gauge of continual improvement. Comparing PR’s efficiency against other marketing agents can provide helpful context. It’s common for PR to deliver the best ROI within the marketing mix, but if you want to benchmark internally, gain the buy-in of those you’ll be referencing (and the measures by which you’ll be compared).
What Worked, What Didn’t? How Do We Improve? View measurement as a tutor as opposed to a scorecard: opportunities for learning and continual refinement abound. It’s hard to imagine a CEO who wouldn’t respect the desire to learn and improve even if some elements underperformed.
What’s Next? Beyond telling you what happened and how you performed, your measurement system should tell you something about what to do about it and in what sequence.
Ideally, the value questions you will be expected to answer should be reasonable, meaningful and measurable within the broader context of budget, type and duration of the campaign and more. So while generating high-volume coverage is reasonable and measurable, most agree it is not particularly meaningful. And while generating sales is very meaningful, it is difficult to accomplish and even harder to validate
As such, it’s not a particularly reasonable value. Typically, three or four measures will emerge as those upon which executives will agree. The most common include delivering key messages to target media, raising awareness and meeting or exceeding objectives. To optimize value and reduce risk, be certain to maintain consistent and open communication with key executives to share findings and seek agreement.
CONTACT: @WeinerMark firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the December 7, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.