Random PR Thoughts

What Are We Really Measuring Here?



This spring, I am teaching “Fundamentals of the Theory and Practice of Public Relations” to 32 students at Marist College. I recently invited Michael O’Brien of Ketchum to speak to the class about planning.

Michael spoke eloquently on the subject, but I have to admit that I was taken aback by some of the things I learned from him.

I have been out of the agency business for some 12 years and I guess things have changed. Back then, each autumn our account teams would prepare elaborate plans for the PR activities they were recommending to their clients. Usually, once the clients signed off on them, the plans would be stored someplace safe until the following autumn, when they would (maybe) be reviewed to see if the program goals had been met.

Because so many of these programs lacked truly measureable objectives, there really wasn’t much point in looking back. If the event we had proposed was staged without death or serious injury, it was considered a success. If it “raised awareness,” why, that was reason enough to celebrate.

Of course, I am being a bit facetious. But 20 years ago, few plans I looked at took the process of measurement and evaluation very seriously. Those that did tended to suffer from a lack of interest on the part of clients to pay for the kind of rigorous measurement one would need to truly understand if the programs were successful or not. Of course, we did not have the instantaneous internet metrics then that we have today.

Michael’s insights were a little startling. Not only are today’s clients interested in measuring results, they are demanding an accounting of performance-to-date, sometimes as often as monthly.

On reflection, this really doesn’t come as a surprise. Budget dollars are as tight as ever, and our clients are being held accountable for demonstrating that these funds have been spent productively as never before. No client is going to wait until the end of the year to see how it’s going – by then it’s too late to do anything to change course.

It was within that context that I recently read a Holmes Report article that felt like a laser pointer in the eye. It concerned the results of a study conducted by Proof Analytics in 2018. Proof surveyed 400 senior executives and found that “94% had little or no reliable understanding of the quantifiable business value” actually delivered by marketing and public relations.

Proof Analytics founder Mark Stouse was quoted saying, “Many of the C-suite respondents went out of their way to say that their frustration did not stem from a lack of belief in marketing’s impact, but rather the failure of their marketing teams to embrace full accountability for ROI and business value.”

The study findings note that fully 95% of these executives doubted whether marketing leaders have the same understanding of value creation as business leaders, with many marketing and PR teams defining value in non-financial terms. And 92% were not sure that marketing leaders understood the range of business problems that need to be solved.

Finally, more than half felt marketing teams ignored the question of ROI, seeing it as a point of vulnerability or a ploy by sales or finance leaders to justify cuts to marketing budgets.

The sad but seemingly inevitable result of these sentiments is plain to see. “As a majority of respondents no longer believe their marketing team can answer the ROI question, finance departments are being asked to assume control over performance measurement and analytics for marketing and PR,” the study concluded.

Clearly, these executives take their management and fiduciary responsibilities seriously and would like to believe that their colleagues in Marketing and Public Relations share that commitment. The only way to demonstrate that commitment is by embracing accountability.

That starts with clear, measureable objectives for every PR initiative and a willingness to hit the brakes if things do not appear to be going where they need to and to chart a new course.

The good news is that every step we take in this direction moves the PR business closer to being seen by the C-Suite as credible, reliable and indispensable.

Categories: Random PR Thoughts

2 replies »

  1. Thanks for this thoughful updating of the business impact/value creation dilemma of marketing/communications practitioners, managers and leaders. I am an senior advisor to Mark and the team at Proof Analytics; you know doubt recall Holmes described the situation as FOFO “Fear of Finding Out.” I think of it more after 40 years in the field as “fear of failure.” I hope you and Lauren are well, and enjoying a full life after outstanding careers.

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