Proving Value: Measures of Success

By Mark Weiner

If "proving value" remains one of PR's greatest challenges, why do so many people get it wrong? The difficulty may be that values are subjective: They change from organization to organization but also from person to person within the same organization. As such, the process of proving value begins with defining value and evolves from there.

The key to discovering the often secret value system in your organization is in the hands of your clients, whether internal or external. While the discovery process may take different forms, this much is certain: Creating a workable, risk-free value system will involve principles that are measurable, meaningful and reasonable. The mistake made by many is to assume that the fundamental value metrics are inherently weaker than business measures.

Do I believe that public relation's impact on sales is a stronger indicator than counting clips? Absolutely--but my definition of meaningful may be different than your client's and my designation of reasonable may be different than what the resources at our disposal will allow.

What follows is a brief review of the "value continuum" along with the relative importance given to each as expressed through scores of executive surveys with which I've been involved.

Fundamental Measures

  • Proof-of-performance: Commonly taking the form of "activity reports," proof-of-performance measures demonstrate that you did what you said you would do, for example, "pitch calls were made."
  • Execution metrics: Showing the extent to which you delivered on time and in quality, an execution metric example expands on the previous example: "Pitch calls were made to 100 leading journalists at our top 50 media." Some clients who don't understand PR find comfort here.
  • Reach: A form of execution metric, reach indicates how many people were given the opportunity to read, watch or listen to your message, whether it came through news coverage, employee conferences or event attendance.

Valuation: A common but controversial measure of PR value seeks to apply a dollar figure to news coverage in the form of an ad value on an "if purchased" basis. Using the underlying drivers of ad values--amount of space or time, circulation or audience, prestige of the media outlet-- one will arrive at more meaningful measures of quality performance than simple ad values.

The Bottom Line: Fundamental measures are simple, inexpensive and expected even if they are not always highly valued.

For more on this topic, see the February 9, 2009 issue of PR News.