How Communicators Can Get Their Research Objectives Ready for 2020

Mark Weiner, IPR Measurement Commission/Chief Insights Officer, Cision

Communicators share three desires: to communicate PR’s value, to improve PR’s performance and to quantify PR’s unique business contribution. While it’s too late to shape last year’s results, we can study what we’ve done in 2019 and apply lessons learned to improve our business operations in 2020.

To get started, here are steps you can take now:

Evaluate 2019 Performance

The New Year beckons with fresh budgets and opportunity. To take advantage of this situation, we must assess what worked in 2019 and things that failed. To validate the wisdom of your decision-making and communicate in terms non-PR execs understand, you need to show that you bested your objectives, topped your competitors, and you improved year over year.

Wherever possible, evaluate performance in the language of business. Use revenue generation, efficiency and mitigation of risk, rather than what we’ll call PR speak, for example: clips, AVEs, buzz, etc.

Consider an efficiency equation to show how you lowered the cost of performance. For example, if your 2018 budget was $1,000 and you generated 1,000 positive placements, the cost-per-positive placement was one dollar. Let’s assume your budget remained flat in 2019, but you generated 2,000 positive placements. In that case the reduced cost-per-positive placement shows efficiency and improved return-on-investment.

Research and evaluation work best when conducted continually to refine throughout the year. If you chose not to measure in 2019, assess PR performance now to set a baseline for 2020; then manage your programs toward an even better New Year.

Assess Your Business Landscape

Now’s the time to consider your environment and plan accordingly. Evaluate journalistic reporting to understand both sides of an issue. Apply social media analytics to capture the voice of the public. Use surveys to weigh public opinion and improve your structured listening.

To reflect the direction of the organization, conduct an internal audit to explore any upcoming changes with key executives. Consider major product introductions; leadership transitions; changes among competitors and any potential regulatory actions. 2020 may require updated plans based on what you learn.

Set Objectives

To inform your 2020 objectives weigh 2019 evaluation and landscape analyses. In setting objectives, consider the need for goals to be measurable, reasonable and meaningful:

Measurable objectives ensure clarity and alignment. When objectives are quantifiable, you eliminate risk as to whether or not you met (or exceeded) them. Simultaneously, hard objectives focus attention, avoid wasted resources and drive peak performance.

Reasonable objectives come from reconciling the inclinations of executives, the objectives of the business and PR’s ability to answer realistically and within available resource boundaries.

Meaningful objectives support the organization’s priorities and the preferences of executives who lead it. Interview key internal stakeholders and aggregate their preferences to create a PR manifesto, gain agreement…then begin. Research provides dimensionality for better objectives setting, planning and execution.

Revisit/Update Positioning Strategy

While strategies may remain viable for years, changes in your organization, your marketplace or among your competitors may require you to reconsider your positioning and targeting strategy in 2020. Unlike paid and owned media, PR is semi-controllable only. As such, our approaches to targeting and messaging are inexact.

But new technology, known as attribution analysis (PRN, Dec. 2019), tracks click-through from digital content through the rest of the customer journey. The technology enables a level of precision previously unknown in the profession. Consider whether it is time to:

Revisit Positioning: Positioning refers to the perception of your company, brand or product in the minds of consumers. If disharmony exists between popular opinion and your current standing or your 2020 objectives, you may need to reestablish the brand in new and different ways. Optimal positioning is one that differentiates positively versus competitors on factors existing or potential customers consider most important.

Positioning research using media analysis, surveys and attribution analysis reflects the priorities of your target market; how you perform on what’s important and how your competitors compare. Through this process, you discover or reaffirm the degree to which your message is compelling to the target audience, and is credible coming from your organization and drives behavior in the marketplace.

Revisit Targeting: Since it’s bought or owned, marketing targets with greater precision than PR, which continues to lead with a combination of personal intuition and experience. Attribution analysis repurposes marketing technology to aid earned media and enables communicators to quantify media that generates click-through, engagement and behavior. Communicators now can pinpoint media that generates business outcomes. This is so even when these media outlets may run counter to conventional wisdom. For example, if your target audience includes high-net-worth individuals, you may find yourself targeting the New York Times. But everyone targets the Times, though, so to reach your target, you may consider smaller daily and weekly newspapers whose demographics match those of the Times, but whose appetite for your content could be be greater. In addition, you might face much less competition in those outlets.

Through positioning and targeting analysis, attribution research reveals the demographics, psychographics and behaviors of your audience. It also details the degree to which the media you pursue represents your message credibly, thoroughly and in compelling, digestible form.

Knowing which combination of media and messaging drives audience behavior empowers a level of precision and efficiency previously unknown. Even if you conducted audience research in 2019, such an assessment without attribution analysis may require a fresh start.

Commit to Continuous Improvement

Research and evaluation serve two purposes: to provide a report card to management that validates the wisdom of the organization’s investment in PR; and to act as a tutor to assess your performance (what’s working; what’s not). This tutoring guides you to higher levels of achievement.

To succeed, the practitioner must remain open to the direction and guidance the research reveals. A report card answers, How did we do? A tutor tells you why and what should be done about it now.

In this way, research goes beyond data, charts and graphs to provide an evaluation. It uncovers insights that you can act on now. It also delivers a data-informed foundation for strategic guidance. Research, combined with openness, responsiveness and agility, supports creativity and experience to reinforce growth and accomplishment. In this way, we elevate PR as an essential business asset and uplift the role of the communicator to that of a trusted and strategic business advisor.

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