How to Exit PR Limbo at the Start of the Year

In popular language, limbo is an indeterminate place where one awaits a decision. It’s pleasant enough but devoid of bliss or pain. I don’t fully understand the religious form of limbo, but I’m very familiar with the PR version: It’s where measurement deniers go after a year-end performance evaluation that’s ambiguous, unfulfilling and offers no guidance.

And yet, most communicators choose limbo over measurement. During Measurement Month in November, this publication published survey results. While some results were encouraging–communicators are measuring more now than they were before the pandemic began–PR lags other professions in its willingness to apply data science.  For every courageous communicator who seeks certainty, dozens suffer the fear of finding out, or FOFO (and the companies we work for are as fearful as us practitioners).

Without objective evaluation, you may hide a shortfall—for a while–but you also deny yourself a purposeful path forward. It’s too late to change 2021 results, but you can review last year’s performance and then ask executives, teammates and yourself important questions. The responses can guide your path in 2022.


January Questions

  • How’d we do in 2021? The New Year beckons with fresh budgets and opportunity, but most spending plans aren’t yet cut in stone.  To make the most of opportunities that remain, assess what worked in 2021 (and what didn’t). Evaluate now to validate your decision-making for the year ahead.  Take the initiative. Quantify the degree to which you met 2021 objectives; how you performed versus competitors; and what changed over time. In many ways, this is a selling situation, so be prepared to inform and persuade.
  • Can we communicate our 2021 PR performance in the language of business? If you have data, add context and combine them to evaluate your performance (sales, efficiency and risk mitigation) rather than just clips, impressions, AVEs, buzz, etc. Research and evaluation work best when refined throughout the year. If you missed measuring in 2021, make plans now to measure in 2022; then manage your programs toward an even better New Year.
  • What’s our standard for success in 2022? The PR team must support the entire enterprise, its leaders and their priorities. For example, perhaps HR will need help. In addition, are your executives seeing 2022 as a year of great visibility or one of headline avoidance? Ask them. This will ensure that their versions of communication goals are reasonable, meaningful and measurable.
  • What more could we accomplish if we get everything we want? Many case studies show that PR can positively influence business outcomes, but that requires resources. You must know: 1) management’s definition of a meaningful outcome; 2) what outcomes you can reasonably affect (even with all resources in the world); and 3) the best way to credibly quantify your impact. If you don’t have these answers, perhaps 2022 is when you will begin simply and simply begin. Use 2022 to elevate executive understanding of what and how PR contributes to positive business results to earn enough resources to shoot the moon in 2023.
  • Has strategy changed? While tactics consume most of the discretionary budget (after staffing or agency fees), each tactical outlay must align to your strategy. Strategy isn’t nearly as dynamic as activation but, when strategy changes, it needs tactical resource support. One thing: if you report into a new boss, it’s likely your strategy will change.If your strategy is changing in 2022, ask:


  • What could we know about our future that we don’t already know? Predictive analytics are available to communicators. Before finalizing your 2022 strategy, test the potential for success. Experiment with buying trends, social movements, competitive activity and much more. These pre-tests may come with a cost, but what’s the liability of NOT knowing anything about the year ahead?
  • How will we reach our target audiences? Which media channels, spokespeople and events offer the highest penetration and credibility within the new context?  Big audiences aren’t enough if they aren’t the right New databases offer specific criteria for B2C and B2B communicators, including demographics, brand loyalty, lifestyles and hundreds of other factors across thousands of brands (cars, banking, airlines, hotels, fast food, retailers, etc.). While there are associated costs, the exercise pays dividends through added efficiency and sustainable performance.
  • What messages will you deliver? With a new strategy, you can’t rely on last year’s message plan. Apply research to determine which messages are credible and likely to resonate with your intended audience. The ideal message is one that’s important to the target group, credible coming from your organization and unavailable to your competition. Finally, it promotes an action. Usually developed using surveys and social media analysis, message engineering is extremely accessible.

Keys to Escaping Limbo:

  • Organize thoughts. Set aside time with your team and leadership to gain a clearer understanding of the business climate, company direction and management’s definition for success in 2022. Prioritize, add quantifying elements, disseminate and secure authorization.
  • Position yourself as a business leader (not just a communicator). Performance data helps align you with executives outside of marketing and communication. Broaden your understanding of the organization and look for opportunities to make meaningful and measurable business contributions.
  • Education. Venture beyond your communications to learn essential aspects of your enterprise and your industry. Speak the language executives speak and use it (data helps).
  • Raise your hand.  Schedule regular monthly or quarterly executive sessions to speak about contributions you’ve made and the ones you’re ready to make. Use data to communicate your performance and elevate professionalism. Make progress easy to track during your next meeting.


Mark’s newest book is PR Technology, Data and Insights (Kogan Page).