Up until last year when I started my marketing consultancy, I was always on the client side of the PR-agency equation, either as internal corp comm or marketing. I have always had measurement at the top of my list. Still do.
Sure, the measurements change, as it is important to choose a relevant measure for the task at hand. But we always understood the importance of being able to justify our PR results quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Didn't always LIKE having to do it, but that's life.
You have to measure, and it doesn't have to be a big deal. But whether your campaign is for a product or for an idea, you do need to know if the audience "bought it." Gut feel just isn't enough, and it definitely doesn't give you the ammunition to defend your work in the boardroom or a competitive situation. More on that in a minute.
For some campaigns -- let's call them awareness campaigns, even though my readers know I really don't believe in awareness-only objectives :-) -- it is still perfectly fine to count clips, look at reach and do a little evaluation of website traffic around the campaign. If your budget permits, do some baseline and post campaign surveying.
BUT the best measurements are tied to sales results -- that is after all why most companies are in business :-) Yes I know it is hard, and yes I know it isn't going to be perfect, but to the extent possible you should tie PR campaigns to sales objectives. Now, it doesn't have to be revenue. After all, there are a lot of steps between a PR hit and a sale. But for B2B in particular, looking for PR to deliver some number of sales leads is not unreasonable. After all, in may cases (tech in particular), the PR budget comes from the old ad budget because we believed in a correspondingly higher value of the PR hit versus an ad.
Now that I am a marketing consultant who handles PR for some of her clients, I still want measurement. Why? Because I know the qualitative is vulnerable to attack. Another agency can easily come in, tell a good story, foster doubt in the client's mind and lead to agency review.
A steady diet of good quantitative results is a bit harder to beat.
The key is to understand what is important to your client. Then measure your effort in that context, show how PR contributed to the results. The measurements may change over time, as objectives change over time. But there's always a desired outcome, and if you look hard enough, you CAN find a way to demonstrate quantitatively (as well as qualitatively) the PR impact on results. It may take a while to convince your client to give you access to the information you need, and that is a whole other story. Willingness to measure without the means can be frustrating, but if you work at it long enough, even the most recalcitrant can be won over.
So, in the current PR measurement conversation (see Shel Holtz's most recent post for the summary) you can put me squarely in the "FOR MEASUREMENT" column.
UPDATE: John Wagner has some more in his blog about his opinion. There's more than the one post, I'm just linking to the latest as of this writing, the response to the Shel Holtz post linked above.
Here's the thing -- I don't think any of us disagree that PR needs to find ways to demonstrably prove its value in order to defend its place in the budget. So does advertising, so does direct mail. Some believe that metrics is the way to go, others prefer more instinctive approaches (measurements?).
Both are right -- the key is to find and understand the measurement that is of value to the client, and I assure you (as someone who has spent a large part of her professional life on the client side), clients care about impact on sales. Show that your efforts generated new prospects. Look at average downloads of your software before and after a major PR campaign. That's a measurement that is just as valid as any system.
And the systems have their place too. I expect particularly in the B2C realm where companies generally don't track leads the way we obsessively do in B2B.
It doesn't matter what measure you pick -- just make sure you have one.
Posted @ 1:01PM in PR
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Excellent post ... your point about impact on sales is excellent, and that's what I think many PR people forget.
Personally, I don't think it's enough anymore to simply say that "x number of people" saw our message because:
1) That's a bogus number based on circulation that doesn't measure true readership.
2) Who cares?
My point all along has been that execs who desire hard numbers from PR often want bottom-line data. If all you're showing is a number who "might" have read and understood your message, you're not telling them anything they care about.
The difficult part then becomes getting access or budget to find out real results. That's when clients often balk and the agency is left standing in the awkward middle.
Your right clients do care most about the impact on sales. That leads me to wonder if anyone would bother writing a thought piece on their industry on a blog. Why would you do that? Surely that will not produce any results?
I think one issue with PR measurement is not to expect immediate results, but to watch the results over time. In the online industry it takes time to build a worthwhile website with good content, as your reputation grows for good content you will get links, boosting your rankings and sales. Measuring the trends over time is probably the best way to demonstrate results.
John and John: Thanks for commenting.
To John W.'s point about the difficulty in getting sales information from clients: you are absolutely right, clients are often reticent about sharing this information. You just have to keep asking and telling them why you want it. It is in their best interests after all :-)
To John C's point about trends over time: agreed, that is one of the measures we should use. But... many individual campaigns also should be measured independently. Particularly when they are expensive :-) Big product launches. Significant promotions.
And of course, this is where it gets fuzzy. Was it PR or the ads or the sales team? So the tendency is to just throw up our hands and say, we can't get a clean number so let's not bother with any numbers. This is the attitude we have to get over. And possibly where some of the metrics can be useful, when combined with analysis and yes, our instincts.
The problem with looking at sales as a measure of success is that in many cases the sales cycle is too long and/or too complex to tie any form of marketing back to it. If you are a defense contractor, for example, there are only about 100 people on the planet who can buy your product. In situations like that, you still need qualitative metrics, but they're not going to be sales leads.They're going to be "share of positioning" or "share of quotes" or the degree to which you've changed market perception. I'm not disagreeing at all, just echoing your point that the metrics really do have to relate to what is important to the client.
KD, thanks for the comment. I think we pretty much agree – it comes down to understanding what the client is trying to achieve and explaining your results in those terms. Quantitative if you can and of course qualitative. The client isn’t trying to get x number of clips in major media –they are trying to change perceptions, sell products, get someone elected. I think where people get hung up and throw up their hands is when they think they have to have complex models and so forth. You *can* and they can be very useful. But you can also have simple indicators tied to sales results and other goals, and that can be just as useful.
I agree with everyone's comments about the importance of having concrete, quantifiable PR measurement tools. As others have mentioned, sometimes this can be difficult. However, I think sales is just one criterion people can use. Another is action -- i.e., whether people are responding to your campaign in some meaningful way. Sometimes this is a good way to determine the immediate impact of a campaign.
I wrote an article on measurement recently that I thought you might find interesting. Go to http://ezinearticles.com/?Action:-The-Only-Communications-Measure-That-Counts&id=120515 to find it.
Well... I still believe that if you are selling a product, the most meaningful response is when someone buys it. It's okay to use other types of response (or actions) to measure the immediate impact of something, but if the sales don't follow on, the program really didn't work. In the end, we really only care how many people actually bought our product, not how many people said they would. And it is really not that different when the "product" is a candidate or an idea. The candidate wants you to vote for her. Does her no good if you say you will and then don't. And so on.
Thanks for your comment Susan, and for taking a look at the article. I agree, the most meaningful response (or action) is a sale, vote, etc. We communicators just have to keep chugging along in chase of the holy grail.