What’s the point of PR? (Or why we struggle to order a beer)

What’s the point of PR? (Or why we struggle to order a beer)

Posted 02:33 PM by Tom Buttle & filed under PR, public relations, measurement .

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Oh no, not another moment of existential crisis, I hear you cry. And just as the summer is about to arrive...

But it’s an important question to ask. As an agency MD I have to do it all the time. Are we achieving anything? Adding value? And if so can we show that value? This last question is the tricky one.

PR has had its share of measurement and metrics over the years. From AVEs and coverage spreadsheets to more intangible and subtle guardianship of corporate reputation - it’s clear that PR is delivering lots to the business. The bigger issue is how we keep pace with the wider marketing mix, with the fluent articulation of the real value of a campaign and the cost of converting prospects.

However you look at it, there’s a language in marketing that is so well embedded, you can’t really communicate in any other way. Sure, it seems that a lot of brands treat these supposedly empirical measures with relatively ‘flexible’ interpretations, but everyone gets what’s being said.

PR doesn’t even use the basic vocabulary. We can’t even order a beer at the bar.

It’s not about ‘PRing PR’ - it’s about real accountability

So stop the press, roll out the crisis comms team - PR isn’t up to speed with digital marketing’s metrics. “Yawn. Old news. Heard it all before. Now let’s get back to the real work of getting great coverage.”

I’m sorry to say it, but there’s been too much of this around the industry over the past few years. We’ve found pretty distractions with words like ‘storytelling’ and ‘narrative building’. And don’t get me wrong here, we are great storytellers, effective communicators and we know our patch. But I think the pity is that as an industry, we’ve reacted to measurement by explaining around it, rather than addressing it head on.

As with any of these things, the reality is a patchwork. Many good brands and agencies are out there discussing SEO, linkbacks, web traffic etc. But the story I get from clients and peers is that the overall the industry is patchy. At present, PR doesn’t come to the table with a consistent, trusted set of metrics. We don’t even all speak the same language of measurement within PR, let alone being part of the bigger commercial direction of the wider marketing organisation.

Forget the death of PR

The whole ‘death of PR’ thing is pretty tired now. After a period with lots of great reinvention happening across the sector, we’re at a point where it should no longer be a point of differentiation to think integrated, to focus on business outcomes, to be creative in our thinking or to be strong content creators.

The real point of differentiation in PR today, I believe, comes in truly effective measurement.

So...that was meant to be the mic drop moment. I suspect that either you’re gone ‘booooring’ or ‘oh shit’ at this point. So let me try to address both:

1) ‘Boring’ is to miss the point, because our ability to show the impact we’re having on a business commercially is what allows us to deliver strategic rather than speculative comms. It’s also how we look at what’s worked and what hasn’t, leading to campaigns that are fun to deliver, rather than harrowing in their failure.

2) ‘Oh shit’ isn’t needed because the tools and ethos of a more measurable era of PR are here. More below, but the key here is that we show enthusiasm as an industry to move forward, rather than to dodge the question.

A balanced approach to measuring PR

So how does PR move forward to the point that we’re speaking this common marketing language - or at least know enough to order that metaphorical beer at the bar? We’ve shared more details about our commitment to TrendKite Premium in the announcement blog, which you might have seen. But let me summarise in my own crude terms:

  • Brand reputation: although it remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery (etc etc), this often intangible facet is key for many businesses’ valuation and ongoing customer engagement. The truth is that we still do not have a measurement for every part of this sentiment. You cannot always define or record how people feel about a brand, nor where those behaviours will materialise. Marketing is an inherently human industry and I believe that’s still fine. In fact it’s important. But we can gauge brand sentiment through wider trends in audience behaviours, and we must relate these back to our work. In the immediate sense, though, we’re looking at traditional PR metrics such as:
    • Where we appear, and the credibility of those sources
    • How widely our story is being told
    • What’s said in this coverage, and its relevance to the commercial goals of the business
  • Lead generation & conversion: the buyer journey today is a complex one. Touchpoints are many and predictability is low. But we do know that people seek the objective viewpoints of peers and influencers as part of this journey, and so PR remains a force for good in turning awareness into action. As our blog shows, PR can now prove its value in:
    • Generating web traffic, even when no backlinks are present in an article. In many ways this is comparable to the behaviour of a consumer who sees a brand’s ad, but doesn’t click it - it’s just that PR is better. Much better.
    • Engagement with points of conversion are the holy grail, and so recipients of our wonderful PR who then go direct to a purchasing page are a scalp in our name
  • Contribution to wider marketing: PR doesn’t need to be its own clique, away from the bully boys of the digital world. Ih fact, we need to remember that as marketers, we’re all mates. We should be supporting the work that our SEO friends and social chums are doing. This might be through a directly integrated campaign work, or indirectly by delivering outcomes that are aligned to the wider momentum (but may not form part of the same campaign). For example:
    • SEO and the generation of coverage that improve brand and keyword performance
    • Social amplification of brand and message by key influencers
  • Competitive intelligence: share of voice is a common piece of analysis in PR, and it remains important. But there’s even more that we can do in the course of our campaigns to advise our marketing peers and help the business hit those big goals:
    • Understanding how competitors are acting in the market and what the pulse is on their brand and messages. We can then plan new campaigns, address challenges that have been laid down and generally improve our differentiation
    • Identifying platforms that are relevant to and engaged with our business can support not just PR, but also social, SEO, advertising, events… the list goes on. All of this is now completely integrated into the PR mindset.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a quick reflection of why our thinking as a whole industry needs to be far, far beyond coverage hits.

Indeed, this is just the start of the journey, and in fact Chameleon is the first agency in EMEA to standardise on TrendKite Premium (here’s that blog again). We know that the most progressive PR practitioners are thinking and behaving this way. But even if you’re already engaged with this thinking (and have read this far) - there’s still a lot of work to do. The leading edge of PR may be immersed in this conversation, but the rest of the sector is still finding its feet. Until PR is fluent in the language of measurement and accountability, we cannot be the great storytellers that we think we are. And I can’t imagine a world where PRs are the last to the bar.