Mark Weiner, Chief Executive Officer, PRIME Research
Public Relations benefits directly from the evolving science of marketing. As time progresses, more and more communications investment decision makers recognize PR’s ability to deliver credible and involving messages that are lasting, effective and relatively inexpensive. This combination – lasting, effective and inexpensive leads to a strong return-on-investment. And yet, while communicators know they must contribute a positive ROI (and management demands it) many public relations professionals refuse to assess and measure their public relations output and outcomes, not to mention their ROI.
Just as executives require every other area within the organization to generate and demonstrate a measureable contribution to business goals, executives expect the same from public relations. This means that public relations practitioners must set measurable objectives and deliver results in light of these objectives to ensure that results are clearly understood (even if many top executives don’t fully understand how public relations works). No CEO objects to meeting and beating measureable objectives, especially when performance is gauged over time, versus objectives and in light of competitive performance.
While measurement requires an investment, it need not break the bank. As such, “budget” is a poor excuse for not measuring…you can always do something. In fact, the simplest and least expensive form of public relations evaluations is to simply set measurable objectives and then beat them. Assuming that your objectives are meaningful, measurable and reasonable, public relations research and evaluation may require no budget at all. With measurement as one of the critical challenges facing the public relations profession, why don’t more PR practitioners use research and evaluation to set objectives, develop strategy, and improve performance over time? Professionals express a number of concerns:
- The costs will outweigh the benefits.
Sure, research requires a level of investment to undertake a serious and rigorous public relations research program. However, the better question might be, what is the cost of not proving and improving your value when your competitors are proving and improving theirs?
- What could we possibly find that we didn’t already know?
There is value in validating what you know because even if your PR victory is obvious to you, it may not be to those funding your programs. Additionally, you never know what else you might learn that is surprising and transformative.
- This will be a lot of work for senior management: setting research criteria and measurement definitions, selling it, and so on.
Yes, instituting a research-based public relations program can be time-consuming and should be undertaken at relatively high levels within the organization. However, the definition process is one that provides an immeasurable learning and prioritizing experience, and once the criteria are defined, they won’t change very often.
- We have only limited control over the results. Why should we be held accountable for things we cannot control?
While it’s true that certain aspects of the PR process are not completely controllable, much of it is manageable and, as a result, PR departments should be held accountable for delivering quality results that improve over time within that context. If you believe PR can’t be measured it almost ensures you will be watching from the sidelines: marginalized, minimized, and living in limbo.
- The results will be used against us.
Using the results as a scorecard is not the primary driver of PR measurement. Instead, research provides the feedback you need to do an even better job. What’s worse is not having any results at all.
- Research is too complicated.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. What you need is a basic set of measures that reflect various business objectives and are aligned with your objectives and strategy. The purpose of research and evaluation, after all, is to provide clarity and understanding, not complexity and confusion.
- It’s too expensive…we can’t afford it.
Many steps lead to the summit, but all of them begin with a single step: much better to begin simply than to never begin.
Make no mistake, communications professionals must ensure — not just measure– PR’s positive return on investment. It’s vital to advocate ROI thinking for PR within your organization as a foundation upon which to consistently communicate your success. And even if one falls short, a commitment to measurement is a commitment to improvement, to develop learning experiences which equip staff and clients with the insight and knowledge they need to understand what public relations ROI means. You cannot change the past but there is still much you can do about the future, and it begins simply…one step a time..
This article originally appeared in PR News