New Methods Emerge to Link Earned Media with Business Outcomes

[Editor’s Note:This column is part I of a two-part series. Part II will appear in next month’s PRNEWS.]


Mark Weiner, Chair, IPR Commission on Measurement and Evaluation, Chief Insights Officer, Cision, Inc.

Every organization has an objective. Whether it is profitability, growth, sustainability or a mix of objectives. Enterprises must overcome the hurdle of integrating disparate business units so executives can understand how each department relates to each other. From there they can assess what’s working, what’s not and what should be done about it (and when).

Companies overcome this challenge by translating the unique languages of communications, finance, marketing, sales, production etc into a common tongue: data. It’s the basis of business and boardroom decision-making.

Measurement Still Vexes PR

PR and communications are not exempt. And yet, measurement continues to vex our profession and stunt its potential. This is due largely to communicators who choose not to measure, and the isolation of PR data among those who do.

Nearly 75 percent of chief communications officers and chief marketing officers don’t feel that they are fully capitalizing on all the benefits of technology and data to modernize their communications programs.

ROI Challenged: B2B execs want to bolster earned media but ROI difficulties hurt their enthusiasm.

Align PR with Business Objectives

As professional communicators, we must align common practice with the business community’s demands. If executives require information and context to determine which investments are most likely to produce viable long-term success, PR’s earned media data stream must integrate with other business data. This will help the business arrive at a way to make more holistic investment decisions.

If PR performance is not quantifiable, integratable and insightful, it’s almost impossible to demonstrate — and generate — a positive contribution toward the organization’s objectives. In the absence of a robust calculable PR foundation, investments will continue to go to those who can and do provide the necessary data, and PR will continue to struggle.

There is good news — a new approach to fact-based earned media optimization reveals how a combination of advanced technology and expert talent can supplement existing methods. It will help revolutionize earned media, communications and marketing decision-making.

Searching for Metrics That Matter

While earned media and PR play an essential role in building the brand, generating revenue, creating efficiency and avoiding catastrophic cost, most practitioners and even leaders don’t quantify their contribution. Vague, indeterminate measures like “buzz” or “breaking through the media clutter” may mean something within the PR community, but they are lost on the C-suite.

In the 2017 “Global Comms Report,” 75 percent of senior executives said they feel the communications profession can do better at measuring and proving its impact on business objectives. Top executives need complete and meaningful communications intelligence, and so do we.

In a PR market intelligence analysis, research firm Demand Gen Report interviewed 169 management-level marketing and communications executives from B2B companies in North America. The study, “The Shifting Strategies for Earned Media,” found respondents believe that earned media influences performance marketing.

Measuring PR’s Role in Revenue

Most PR pros, though, are measuring earned media efforts via web traffic, clips, pickup, likes, and shares. The reason they do so is that it’s difficult to quantify PR’s influence on leads generated, conversion-rate tracking, revenue, or other meaningful measures of business impact. As a result, PR often remains on the periphery of the marketing mix.

While the survey showed that B2B marketers are starting to measure earned media investment against performance goals, it also revealed that marketers still struggle with how best to evaluate traditional and social media coverage.

The study found that while many B2B organizations would like to shift more of their budgets to earned media, they lack confidence in PR’s ability to measure and communicate the ROI of earned media.

Connecting Data with Business Results

To secure a level of primacy within the marketing and business-decision making process, PR must connect performance data with business results. Other disciplines within the organization already do this. Why not PR?

The most compelling examples are those measurement applications that quantify earned media’s place within the sales funnel and PR’s measurable impact on revenue generation.

Until now, PR drew a link to sales in two ways:

Marketing Mix Models: Since mass market advertising and promotions dominate marketing spending (PR averages about 1 percent of the typical marketing expenditure for mass-market brands), and because modeling is expensive and data-intensive, marketing leads most modeling. As such, PR data, when it’s included at all, is dependent on others to “invite” PR to participate. As a result, the data is outside of PR’s control. In addition, the modelers often fail to understand PR’s unique role in the marketing mix to represent it properly.

In summary: Modeling can be very useful, but it’s also expensive and inaccessible for most PR budgets.

PR in Isolation: There are cases, thought rare, where a sales spike occurs during a period when the only in-market activity is PR. With no other way to explain the sales surge, success is attributed to PR. But PR, as we know, rarely operates in isolation. We must account for other modes of simultaneous marketing output in every other instance.

In summary, “PR in Isolation” may be inexpensive, but it’s extremely rare (since usually there are many other channels operating simultaneously whether you know it or not).

In both examples, PR performance is based on derivative rather than direct attribution. Models are based on an algorithm or formula. “PR in Isolation” is based on broad assumptions that: A) PR was operating without the support of other marketing vehicles and B) that PR is the only way to explain the increase (perhaps a competitor doubled its prices and its customers shifted allegiances to your brand).

The good news? PR can quantify its impact on business outcomes. Part II of this series will explain how.

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