Measuring the value of PR isn’t easy but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying

February 11, 2020

Although unlikely to have been a hot topic of conversation over the Christmas break, interaction with PR leaders last year suggests PR measurement will be front-of-mind for many in 2020.

Requirements for reputation management and a growing appreciation that the news you create is as important as the advertising you buy, means lots of brands have doubled-down their investment in PR.  With that comes a need for PR functions to better demonstrate the impact and value they create.

Addressing that need, as many comms folks know, is far from straightforward. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we should give up having a go.  While lots of brands understand the need to improve how they measure PR they’re often less certain on where to begin.

A good place to start is with a critical review of what’s already in place.  In our experience, this typically uncovers three issues.  The first is that PR reporting tends to be backward rather than forward-looking. By that I mean, the focus of reporting is skewed to reviewing and showcasing (the generally positive) impact of what has already happened. That’s clearly important but what these reports often miss are the strategic insights to inform future decision-making.

The second issue is context. In lots of cases, we find reports lacking in detail on how PR activity has supported and integrated with other marketing efforts. Given PR is generally one part of a broader marketing mix, it’s surprising to see so many siloed approaches to reporting.

The third issue concerns how PR results are presented. At a time when real-time dashboards and dynamic visualisation of data has become the norm for business leaders, PR reports can sometimes appear basic and limited in their value. Sure, there’s always going to be a place to showcase impressive media clips and social media content, but it’s the data and insight that’s more important.

Now, I’m not suggesting PR execs haven’t tried to tackle any of these issues. Far from it. In 2019 we saw lots of PR teams launch new measurement projects into businesses. The stumbling block however seems to be getting new measurement approaches to stick.

There are many reasons measurement transformations don’t deliver desired long-term outcomes, but it generally boils down to the reality that pegging PR outcomes to commercial outcomes is tricky, and sometimes downright impossible. Connected to that is the challenge of unearthing the data that’s needed in the first place. In some instances, last year, it took us months to uncover the data we needed from a business’ insights team.

Then there’s the time and energy it takes to educate and achieve organisational-wide buy-in for new measures. All the PR leaders we work with have more priorities than minutes in the day so it’s not surprising measurement initiatives fall easily to the bottom of ‘to do’ lists.

To overcome some of these measurement hurdles we’ve found it best to start small and scale projects over time, so you can test and learn what works. Last year we worked with a large organisation to do just that. When we came on board, we found the organisation swimming in PR-related data but lacking in meaningful insights. Rather than solve it all in one go we began by determining what data was most useful to analyse and what information was valued most by internal stakeholders. We then built a series of interactive dashboards to showcase that data.

One of our key learnings from that work was the need to spend time clearly defining what each of the measures meant for internal audiences. Without this articulation, stakeholders struggled to fully appreciate the significance of data points and insights. Through ongoing consultation with stakeholders, we also uncovered new and better ways to improve the way PR results were showcased in C-level meetings, which goes to show the benefit of not trying to take on everything from the start.

Demonstrating the value of PR will likely be a challenge for some time, but increased business interest in the power and potential of earned means we shouldn’t give up trying. The fact business leaders are taking a greater interest in earned and asking more questions is a good thing. Let’s make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

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Herd MSL

Herd MSL is an ANZ public relations and integrated communications agency that provides strategic counsel and creative thinking. We champion our clients’ interests through fearless and insightful campaigns that engage multiple perspectives and holistic thinking to build influence and deliver impact.

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