Proving Your Worth: What Does Success Look Like?

Excerpt from Just-Published Guide to PR Measurement

It’s the bane of any public relations professional’s existence.  How do you make clients and superiors – or  the decision makers who hold the purse strings – understand the value of public relations?

In the world of public relations, we’ve all tried many different approaches.  Ultimately what made our agency sit up and take notice was the last downturn in 2001 after the dot-com implosion.

Following the last recession and 9-11, every industry – technology-based or not – began watching its pennies.  And the first place every bean counter cut those pennies was public relations.

Why? Not because we as PR professionals hadn’t done a good job.  But isn’t it a little bit like the cobbler’s shoes?  What we hadn’t done is do a good job communicating the value of our work to those with the budgetary decision-making power.

This was a wake up call.  From that point forward, we devised a tailor-made system to educate clients about the value of PR, copyrighted it, and called it Promised Results©. 

What exactly is Promised Results©?

The concept is easy, but the execution, quite frankly, is not.  Here’s the simple answer:  it’s based on asking clients upfront the most important question.  That question is:

What will success look like?

If you can define success with a client upfront and be clear about goals, then you can develop a tangible metric that reflects the success that is of value to the client (or your own boss if you’re internal).  Clients then see the tangible value of your services -- even the ones with the purse strings. 

We’re happy to define success for others, but that seldom helps clients see value.  What really matters is how client define their own business success.  Only then can we tailor a program to support that business objective.

Here’s an example.  A high-end boutique hotel in San Francisco was having trouble getting “heads in beds” with leisure travelers on the weekend.  So, we came up with a program of creative hotel packages that helped drive leisure travelers to the hotel on weekends.  We only promoted these packages through public relations efforts (not advertising) – and then we took credit for every package that was sold.  We were able to prove that we brought half a million dollars in new business to that hotel property in one year.  Not a bad return on investment – but it was the right return that the client identified, and it helped engineer the result that supported the client’s identified business goal upfront.

Another example:  a software client was mainly interested in trade press that would drive sales.  The trouble was that the specific trade press identified didn’t accept advertising.  So getting a hard and fast evaluation of the identified coverage was not possible.  What to do?  We devised a rating system that included the following: 

  • Did the campaign reach the identified media targets?  
  • Did the article include the competition or not? 
  • Did it include a photo? 
  • Was it on message?
  • Etc. 

We tallied the ratings for each category and came up with a metric that equaled poor, fair, good, very good or excellent.  With this summary, we were able tangibly to demonstrate that the coverage reached the exact targets this client was seeking and we additionally showed that the quality of the coverage supported the overall messaging and business objectives.

What about business leads?  For another consumer product client, business leads were the most important evaluation tool.  So, in conjunction with other metrics identified above, we made sure to track business leads and whether or not they turned into true sales.  That gave us a great metric to hand back to the client, as well as a clear return-on-investment.

For another client, the identified metric was reaching 20 specific U.S. markets with their campaign.  Our campaign reached 18 of the 20 markets – well, actually, the writer in Los Angeles didn’t like the product and we talked him out of running his article in the LA Times -- so we considered that an additional win!

Another way to measure success is through the quality of the message and message retention.  For the same client that identified the 20 U.S. markets, we analyzed the coverage with an eye towards this and gave the coverage an overall quality rating.

There are always the tried and true methods as well.  For some clients, these measurement tools work:  everything from gross impressions to advertising equivalency to the indomitable clip book.

I know many PR professionals who shy away from promising results – and I used to be one of them myself.  The logic goes something like this:  how can I promise something when in the world of public relations I don’t always have control?  But here’s the reality:  either you embrace quantifying such results – or those beyond the world of PR will not value your efforts and the result will be PR’s loss anyway.

The bottom line is this:  clients – or if you’re internal, your superiors – may understand public relations but to really value its effectiveness, they need a tangible metric.  Defining that metric upfront – by defining success upfront with the client or your superiors – is the way to guarantee your own public relations success.

For us, the proof has truly been in the pudding.  With our current client base, we have been able to retain approximately 85% of our clients.  And in 2006, we witnessed our second best year in business.

This article was written by David Landis, president of Landis Communications Inc., a San Francisco-based consumer public relations agency.  Visit Landis at