The Do’s and Don’ts of Communicating PR Outcomes

So you think you have this PR measurement thing down. You’ve listened in on a couple of webinars, attended the PR News Measurement Conference and have a copy of the Barcelona Principles taped to your bedroom ceiling. OK, maybe not, but you get the idea.

You’ve even begun to tie your output metrics to outcome metrics: morphing your “number of blog mentions for your sales team” into “number of requests for sales information.” In doing so, you’ve not only moved your PR function closer to the boardroom, you’ve enhanced your own reputation as a metrics hotshot.

But there’s one thing that could trip you up: bombing in the boardroom, or in front of other business groups. Yes, presenting outcome metrics can be a complex affair, particularly when spouting lots of numbers and correlations between PR and business outcomes. So to prevent an embarrassing moment, PR News asked three experts who have presented plenty of PR outcome data under duress to name critical do’s and don’ts in properly communicating PR outcomes, followed by a key takeaway.

â–¶ Katie Paine, CEO and founder, KDPaine & Partners

Report in context. Always compare results to either last month, last quarter or with the competition.

Don’t say “there was a big spike in June,” and fail to explain why that spike (or dip) occurred and what it will take to avoid it or enhance it next time.

If you are reporting on outcomes in a competitive environment, understand what is going on in your marketplace, the tactics the competition is using and resources they have.

Don’t say the competition is kicking your butt. Don’t sound defensive. You’re not defending your budget or your performance, or justifying your existence. You are presenting data that management needs in order to make the company healthier.

Don’t hide bad news —management needs to hear it.

Use trend charts, not pie charts. Pie charts tell you what happened, trend charts can tell you what is going to happen.

Understand the audience you’re presenting to. Some people like to look at numbers and charts, others prefer words.

Make sure you understand and can explain your data sources. Rehearse, try it out on your colleagues, or with your mother if necessary, but make sure you can explain what you are talking about.

Have your data provider on speaker phone during the presentation, if necessary. Most data presentations go south because some doubting Thomas pokes holes in your data collection methodology.

Make sure you are presenting sound science that everyone can agree is sound science. Adhere to the Institute for PR and CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations) guidelines.

Key Takeaway: The biggest mistake everyone has is being afraid to deliver bad news.  “Find the failures first,” says Paine. “You learn the most from what didn’t work or what clearly isn’t working.” That immediately gives you something to change and improve. Paine says to look at all your data and identify the worst outcome—that tactic or strategy that is delivering at a lower level than anything else. Highlight that and recommend a solution—like taking money away from that and putting it towards something that is working.

â–¶ Natasha Fogel, executive VP, Global Measurement & Analytics General Management, StrategyOne

Present PR value, but in the context of your audience. For the marketing group, for instance, do it within their marketing lens.

Don’t speak in the language of PR. If you’re presenting to public affairs, speak in terms of what problems they are trying to solve.

Communicate failure as a learning experience. For the next program you must reference that failure as a key insight—“This is what we learned last time, so we’ll need to have a stronger digital strategy.”

Don’t use multipliers—they are just artificial numbers. Communicating sheer volume and magnitude is way too easy.

Don’t feed into the ad value discussion. To force that change, educate yourself on the latest measurement developments (see Cheat Sheet).

Define your outcome goals upfront, and get your organization to sign off on it. This makes you part of the process—you’re complementing other parts of the organization.

Reference competitors’ performance and what they are doing—and how you can do it better.

Key Takeaway: “If measurement is an afterthought, then you’ll want to default to something that is old and easy,” says Fogel. Resist that temptation. In order to be relevant within your organization, you must spend time planning your outcomes and creating the right metrics.

â–¶ Allyson Hugley, executive VP, Measurement & Analytics, Weber Shandwick

Understand clients or your business way beyond PR. Check to see if you can leverage research to enhance your communications side of the story. For example, if you are tracking media coverage, and a client has a reputation tracker in place, show a correlation between the two.

Don’t overcomplicate things. There’s always a desire to use new technologies, but consider your multiple layers of stakeholders. When they have to communicate your outcomes to someone else, clarity is lost.

Don’t assume that the data speaks for itself. Often we can pull together charts, graphs and it doesn’t have analysis behind it. Be able to answer the “why” behind the data.

Try to create some separation between who is doing the PR work and who is doing the measuring. Sometimes when you’re too close to the work, measurement mistakes will happen, and you could be called on the carpet.

Key Takeaway: As PR moves forward with setting measurement standards and new processes, Hugley says one concern is that these new tenets will complicate the measuring process with a more rigid structure. “Don’t let this hinder you,” she says. “Demonstrate that you have your own point of view on how to measure, and what’s important to measure.” PRN


Katie Paine,; Natasha Fogel, Allyson Hugley,

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