When in discussions with a PR agency, many people ask, “how can you prove its value?”
Well, it’s a tricky question that can often stir up a debate and it’s one that professionals in the industry have tried to answer for many years. PR, or public relations, is the practice of sharing context-rich information about a company, a brand, or a person, with its public and stakeholders in the most effective way. It can see the writing of press releases and in-depth articles for national, local or trade media, the securing of awards, or the more general raising of exposure to the people that matter most to the client.
PR has been seen in the past to be advertising’s poor cousin, and yes, we are biased and of course disagree, but PR provides much more than advertising ever could, including third-party endorsement. The best way to describe PR? You’re at a party and you see a handsome guy. You go up to him and tell him, “I’m fabulous.” That’s advertising. You’re at a party with a bunch of friends and see a handsome guy and throughout the evening, numerous friends and even strangers go up to him and, pointing at you, say “she’s fabulous.” That’s public relations. But if he’s not looking for fabulous he still won’t call. And that’s where strategic PR comes in.
PR isn’t just about the written word, the power of raising a company’s profile, and engaging them with their core stakeholders or appearing in the media, either. Granted, the writing style has to be impactful, but since it formal advent over a century ago, PR has evolved and is now about the wider picture – reputation. It’s the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you. It’s all about maximising the positives and minimising the negatives.
And every organisation, regardless of the size, shape and type of business, relies on its reputation for survival and success. All people have an opinion and that can be good, bad, and right or wrong. PR as a tool helps educate stakeholders – customers, partners, shareholders, suppliers and other publics, and it gains trust and understanding.
So, if PR is now all about reputation, how do we measure its success?
Perception surveys can be a valuable way to see whether stakeholder opinions have changed, or are changing, but it can cost thousands to do. Or there are other methods, like AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalent), which traditionally ruled PR reporting across the globe. AVE pulls together details about how much it would cost to advertise to get the same coverage that PR achieves in magazines, newspapers, online news websites and other media outlets. It doesn’t provide an accurate measurement of the PR’s editorial credibility though, however it’s still used because of a lack of alternatives.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are a tool that we advocate using. In footfall, for example, we can consider the average customer spend, their dwell time, cross fertilisation of retail to leisure, and use other ‘metrics’. But in many industries we simply don’t have that level of intelligence and information. The truth is, PR isn’t easy to evaluate directly. There are often other methods in the process at the same time, such as marketing, advertising, social media activity and much more.
When we’re looking at coverage, we can measure how suitable the readership of the title was, the strength and impact of the coverage (taking into account its position on the page) whether it has a photo or a border, as well as how many people had the chance to read the piece.
PR can drive people to enquire, to call, and boost web traffic, but it can’t be linked to the sales pipeline. There’s much more between the enquiry and the sale that could still affect a person’s decision – the sales staff and friendliness of the person answering the phone, the price of the product or service, and whether the person’s aim is to compare it with others.
So, is it worth spending hundreds or even thousands on measuring PR’s success to be presented with facts and figures, or is it much more about the reputation of a business and engaging effectively with its stakeholders? The most important thing is that you and your agency know what success looks like, whether that’s having more enquiries, raising awareness, or targeting a market they haven’t before.
We’d love to know what you think. Please do share your comments below :-)
By Jennie Windle, PR Executive
(Connect with Jennie here)