Public Relations: The Low Cost Boost for Marketing


Mark Weiner, Chief Insights Officer, Cision & Senior Consultant, PRIME Research Americas

While PR works at a fraction of the cost, it is among the most undervalued resources in the marketing mix.

Brands apply Public Relations for much more than just marketing but in many cases, PR supports, supplements or drives traditional marketing objectives to generate profitable revenue. Here, we explore how the transformation of mass marketing creates opportunity for Public Relations even if resources are limited (and offer ideas of what you can do to make the transformation work for you).

PR in the Marketing Mix

 According to the CMO Council, total global expenditures on digital, mobile and traditional marketing approached $2 trillion dollars in 2015.  Such high levels of investment forces marketers to confront two compelling questions: “What is the relative return on my spending?” and “How efficient is my spending across the marketing mix?”

Research experiences from a wide range of categories reveal that Public Relations contributes greatly to meet the demands of effectiveness and efficiency.  Companies want the biggest impact for the lowest cost—leaving traditional marketers with severe pressure to achieve the most for less. In seeking greater insights into marketing performance, companies invest in sophisticated technologies, algorithms and consultants.  And while these models prove PR’s great returns on investment, most organizations don’t include PR in their marketing models and an overwhelming majority of Public Relations professionals don’t have access to a model into which they can feed whatever data they may have. But PR people who invest in research and evaluation may not need a complex model to uncover the returns they generate.

Public Relations-The Low Cost Boost for MarketingPublic Relations delivers value both directly (using advanced ROI modeling) and indirectly (by creating a favorable brand environment shaped by positive, prominent, and highly visible media coverage) to provide a lift for every other form of marketing.

But one may not need a sophisticated algorithm or a complex model to find proof that PR provides an immediate and substantial impact on sales.  Post Cereal is proof. At the time of this example, cereal manufacturers were under scrutiny because the retail price of cereal was rising while the price of ingredients were not. The issue escalated to the point that congressional hearings were called. Post chose to lower the cost of its cereals significantly, simply by eliminating unprofitable coupon promotions. Post announced its new pricing strategy through PR. The announcement was highly visible, receiving widespread and positive coverage. The brand’s market share jumped several points within weeks and, in the absence of advertising and in-store promotions, the lift in sales could only be attributed to the single form of communication: PR.  The cost of the campaign – a press conference and a press release — was microscopic compared to the multi-million-dollar lift in sales it triggered.  Post’s competitors followed and, as the pioneer of change, Post continued to generate positive coverage in every competitors’ subsequent announcement.

Surely, with examples like this (and so many more since Post), one would have expected PR to gain marketing resources due to its ability to tell the brand story in ways that are uniquely credible and engaging, and with very low cost. And yet, according to The Holmes Report, Public Relations investment for 2016 represents no more than 1.5% of the 2016 forecast from the CMO Council…no more than a rounding error. What’s more, since not all Public Relations relates to marketing, one can reasonably infer that PR’s share of marketing expenditure may even round down to zero.

What can we in Public Relations do to increase awareness of our effectiveness and efficiency? Measure what you can afford to measure. Make sure that your measures align with the brand’s objectives and get agreement from your marketing partners. If your brand is one that invests in market mix modeling, make certain that your PR data is properly integrated (and make sure that the modelers understand how PR differs from the other forms of marketing they analyze). Communicate PR results to management in the language of business rather than “PR Speak.”

Begin simply. Simply begin.

About the Author: One of the world’s largest corporate communications research and consulting firms, now part of the Cision family, PRIME employs more than 500 analysts and consultants who combine talent with technology to foster better business decisions among its global clients. Weiner joined PRIME as CEO in 2008. Weiner is a member of the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame and delivered the Distinguished Lecture in Public Relations at Quinnipiac University.

Weiner is a member of the Arthur W. Page Society, serves as a Trustee and the 2017 Chairman of the Measurement Commission for The Institute for Public Relations, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Museum of Public Relations. He is a member of the International Association of Business Communicators, the Public Relations Society of America and AMEC. Weiner sits on the editorial advisory boards of The Strategist and PR News. He is a regular contributor to PR Week, IABC’s Communication World, PRSA’s Tactics and The Strategist, and, as well as an active participant at conferences by The Institute for Public Relations, The Conference Board, ABERJE, the Association of National Advertisers, The American Marketing Association, The Arthur Page Society, IABC and PRSA. Since 1993, he has devoted his career to helping many of the world’s most respected organizations and brands to demonstrate and generate a positive return on their investment in corporate and brand communications.  |  @WeinerMark 



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