Next Big Thing: Non-Financial Factors will Link PR, Reputation & Share Price

The latest PRNEWS Measurement, Tech and Talent Survey (see related stories on p.1 and 6 of this month’s edition) looks at where we are as a profession. In addition, it considers where we’re headed, asking: What’s the next big thing for communications research and evaluation? It’s a good question to ponder as we celebrate Measurement Month.

But, in an ironic twist, only 12 percent consider predictive analytics the next big thing (see chart on p. 15).

Savvy researchers apply significant resources to predictive analytics. They recognize its power. Imagine predicting the virality of a news item or a post. Would you like to know where competitors are headed so you can preempt them or mitigate any advantage?

Looking at other responses to the survey question, consider the gap between “An emphasis on automation, DIY and AI” (5 percent) and “A balanced mix of technology and talent”(27 percent). Could the 5 percent mean everyone already owns a PR platform? Perhaps the 27 percent indicates that nearly one-third realize technology in isolation is not the answer.

True, current technology is not a panacea: operators need training; the technology needs training, too. As someone who believes in our uniquely human contribution, I’m encouraged by this phenomena.

The lower responses for automation, DIY and AI are encouraging too. While there’s much more that technology can do, we may have reached the stage where tech development for PR evolves toward iterative refinement. There aren’t many pure break-throughs left to unleash upon the mass PR market beyond contact databases, media monitoring and simple media analytics, though predictive holds great potential.

When you consider how the activities most vulnerable to automation and AI are rote and routine, we see how PR is insulated. How many PR days are so mundane?

Given our creative endeavors require innovative thinking to address chaotic, unpredictable situations, you should have nothing to fear from AI. And, based on the survey results, you don’t.

That’s good news: PR pros are safe from robot replacements and can look to enhancements that will make work easier and faster, allowing us to focus on what we’re singularly capable of achieving.

The least surprising responses are two sides of the same coin: “A fully integrated analysis across the marketing and communication mix” and “A solution for quantifying PR’s impact on business outcomes, like sales and revenue generation.” A combined 46 percent envision this as PR’s next big thing. The two questions are interrelated since isolating PR’s impact on business outcomes requires we know our relative contribution across the marketing and communication mix. As such, the second is predicated on the first.

But that’s been PR’s ‘next big thing’ for 30 years.

The difference is that marketing and communication analytics have evolved dramatically. And here’s where technology shows great potential to boost integrated marketing communication. With cascades of data, PR can ascend beyond what anyone could have imagined. And these technologies continue to evolve.

Now, we have access to lower-cost, multi-touch attribution and marketing mix modeling. Multi-touch attribution collects specific user-level data to quickly isolate specific events and assess their impact on conversion (the customer journey). Applying advanced regression analysis, these models quantify the success of marketing and communication over time. Unlike attribution modeling, it is much slower, favoring annual or semi-annual analysis and heavily dependent on historical data, but it reveals a much bigger picture.

Each in their own way contributes to understanding PR’s impact on business outcomes and explains how PR interrelates with other marketing agents. When combined, attribution and modeling create an even more formidable platform to accurately quantify PR’s contribution, and to inform near and long-term planning and evaluation.

A prediction: ESG will be the next big thing. Morningstar sees ESG as a predicate for investment. It estimates one-third of investors factor ESG into their buy/sell decisions. ESG is a function of a company’s behavior and the reputation it creates for doing good. To a high degree, PR owns reputation. Until now, investors considered reputation an unquantifiable, soft asset. With the advent of ESG investing, that’s changed. What’s more, compared to attribution and marketing mix models, which reveal PR’s ability to generate a few million dollars in revenue, reputation touches billions of dollars in market capitalization. ESG introduces PR to big money.

Only time will tell, of course. As is often true in the evolution of PR, business, and humankind: the predicate isn’t so much about technology or methodology; it’s about people’s willingness to change. One thing we can be certain about: our profession continues to evolve and elevate and these changes will profoundly affect PR as we know it.

Mark’s new book is “PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.”