Public relations has always been a difficult concept for people to grasp. What we do is not tangible. It’s not like you can hold up an ad and say, “I created this.”
Sure, you can point to content you’ve developed, or tweets you’ve sent, or stories that you worked on with a journalist. You can even proudly state that something did not hit the news cycle because you managed a crisis. But that just leads to more confusion. “Oh, so you play on Twitter all day?” Not exactly.
When the industry adopted media impressions and advertising equivalencies, everyone drew a huge sigh of relief. Finally, we had a way to “measure” our efforts and be comparable to our advertising brethren.
But as data and analytics have become more and more accessible, now is the time to ditch media impressions and advertising equivalencies and focus on the things that help an organization reach its goals.
So long, media impressions and AVEs
For many communicators, 2018 will bring big changes for you and the way you measure your efforts.
In May of 2017, the head of the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), speaking about advertising value equivalencies (AVEs), announced they are going to invest “significant time and resource to kill off finally this derided metric.”
In a paper published on the topic, the requirements of AMEC members include:
- All AMEC members to sign an undertaking that they will not provide AVEs by default to any client. Any client that requests AVE as a metric will receive standard educational material explaining why the metric is invalid and should not be used. They will be offered alternative PR metrics instead.
- Working with PR award organizers around the world to introduce a zero-scoring policy if awards entries include AVEs as a metric. AMEC members will not provide an AVE as a metric for any award competition entry.
- Working closely with academics and PR practitioners to help them help AMEC kill off the demand for the metric which is sustaining it currently.
In direct response to AMEC, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) took it a step further and said any member using AVEs will be banned from the organization. The new guidelines were presented to the CIPR Council in September 2017.
Members will have one year to complete a transition to valid PR metrics. If, after that time, communicators are still found to be using AVEs, they “may be liable to disciplinary action.”
It’s time to focus on real results
Having judged award entries for IABC and other professional organizations, it’s always shocking to see entries that lack a connection to real business results.
They’re focused instead on Facebook fans, number of media interviews, and media impressions.
These “results” are why our industry is not taken seriously by executive teams in nearly every organization. There certainly are instances where executives ask for these numbers—and they want to know when they’ll get to a million Facebook fans—but that’s our fault. We’ve never taught them (or ourselves) how data and analytics can prove public relations is an investment, not a just nice, feel-good thing to have.
It’s up to us to adopt guidelines from AMEC and CIPR to move our industry forward around the world.
That’s not to say the vanity metrics aren’t important—we certainly can tell a lot by website traffic spikes or declines, a sudden decrease in social media followers, or decreased time spent on site. But that is where we should start.
We should then move forward with metrics such as increased revenue, shortened sales cycles, and improved margins.
You need a strong command of data
For those of you who have been in the industry for a few years, you’ll remember having to sit through focus groups night after night, watching people on the other side of one-sided glass talk about your products or services.
The beauty with data and analytics is that we no longer have to give up our weeknights (and eat pizza four nights in a row) to get information about what our customers think.
If you have strong command of all of the data at your fingertips, you will be able to influence high-level decisions on products, market positioning, and more. If you don’t know how to sift through the data, look at taking some online courses through Coursera or Cognitive Class. The courses are free. All you need is to set aside some time and commit to learning how to do this.
Shortened sales cycles
If you’re in a consumer business, this is less important to you. But in a business-to-business organization, a sales cycle could be anywhere from two days to two years.
Work with your sales team to figure out how long the average sale takes and set a goal to beat it. Let’s say it takes 10 months. Set your goal to nine months.
The best way to shorten a sales cycle? Stay top-of-mind. The best way to stay top-of-mind?
Create valuable and interesting content that is shared in the places your prospects hang out.
This could include email, social media, stadiums, subways, websites, and more. The better your content, the more likely your prospects are to read it. The more likely they are to read it (or view it or listen to it), the more likely they are to buy from you.
Public relations professionals have ultimate control of this.
We had a client a few years ago who incentivized us based on how much we helped his margins increase. Just as we were about to get our bonus for improving their margins by two percent, he decided to buy a Ferrari. That killed the margins and we got no bonus. (I also learned a very valuable lesson.)
If you don’t work for a public organization, I recommend staying away from this one.
If you do, the easiest way to determine your effect on margins is to track how much revenue you generated. Then subtract the salary and benefits of your team (if you work for a PR firm, subtract your budget).
The number you end up with is the revenue you’ll use for reporting. Then have your finance team help you figure out the margins from there.
If you increased revenue by more than what you spent, you can pretty much guarantee you improved margins too.
If you work for an organization that doesn’t work by the open book policy (meaning, you know what the revenue is on any given day), you’ll have to ask (beg) for this information. If you can provide data that shows why you need it, you’re more likely to get it.
Figure out how you can affect growth.
If you have e-commerce, your campaigns will drive to landing pages where people can make purchases.
If you don’t sell online, your content, email, social media, media relations, and other efforts will be measured through the leads you generate, how you nurture them, and how you help sales convert them.
Gain access to your customer relationship management (CRM) system so you know exactly where each lead comes from and whether or not they convert to sales. You have to have access to software the organization uses so you can track your efforts. That is how you know how much money you’re driving for the business.
Include PR metrics in everything
Measuring your efforts is not an easy path. You have to combine art and science—and it may seem a little scary because there is math involved. But if you think of it less like math and more like you’re reading data to be able to tell your PR story, it becomes less intimidating.
Part of that includes learning how to include PR metrics in the work you do. Otherwise, at some point, executives will stop trying to do PR and concentrate instead on activities that are measurable.
Let’s not let that happen.