October 17, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

How can PR demonstrate its value to prove it deserves larger budgets

How can PR demonstrate its value to prove it deserves larger budgets

For the most part, the collapsing of silos between advertising, marketing, and public relations has been a positive development for the practice of corporate communications. By better integrating messaging with things like sales objectives, benefits for companies are twofold: not only is communication across channels more consistent, links with things like sales and inbound marketing means that PR work is better tied to business objectives—which makes measurement more accurate and more likely to be done in the first place. One of the biggest struggles in PR work, it seems, is getting to that first starting point of even being able to conduct measurement, so anything that makes it easier is welcomed.

However, a persistent problem in PR is the stagnant number of organizations that have solid measurement programs in place. A variety of reasons have been suggested for the lack of implementation in this area, including lack of staff, lack of time, and a lack of resources. The inability to get solid measurement programs in place is a problem for PR, and might hinder its future.

Public relations work is a growing part of the pie

Two articles that were recently published make me wonder if any further advancement in the area of PR measurement is possible, or if it is even potentially at risk. The first piece that was posted back in May on Media Post covered a recent study by the Association of National Advertisers, revealing that a “majority of marketers plan to increase internal staffing and overall spending on public relations over the next five years citing the discipline’s increasingly important part of the marketing landscape.”

If you’re in PR, the survey results appear to be very good news. Among the findings:

  • Over the next five years, 62 percent of respondents plan to increase staffing to support public relations.
  • Seventy-five percent stated that they planned to increase PR spending during that same time period.
  • More than half of the respondents (54 percent) believe that PR will change during the next five years, drawing closer still to marketing efforts.

An additional 18 percent of respondents went further still on PR changing, saying they felt that PR would “become a subset of marketing.” This particular response might set some PR pros on edge—public relations and marketing, although related, are often said to have differing objectives. Marketing’s objective is to ensure communications efforts support a business with profitability as a primary goal, while PR’s objective can be a bit more nebulous—PRSA states that the objective of PR is to engage in strategic communications to build mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. One objective is profit, the other is relationships.

That said, the oft-repeated mantra of successfully measuring PR is to tie efforts to business objectives—the primary one of which, of course, is to make a profit. Survey respondents were overwhelming in their responses on this point: 89 percent said that PR must prove its value through measuring results demonstrating its ability to achieve outcomes for the business.

There are of course some exceptions; not every business objective is tied to profit, even in for-profit businesses. Things like corporate reputation, public opinion, and media interactions are tangentially related to profitability and are squarely in PR’s wheelhouse, so the idea that PR will be completely subsumed by marketing seems to ignore, or at least diminish, PR’s separate mission.

The key takeaways here: While it is encouraging to see PR garner more of the spotlight, PR has a distinct role to play, which needs to be recognized and protected. PR also needs to get with the program on real measurement, because that is the standard to which it will be held going forward.

Level staffs, stagnant budgets

The second of the two articles was a short piece relating another survey’s results on Ragan.com. This survey’s responses paint a far less rosy picture and convey an undercurrent of frustration. Respondents relayed frustration with understaffing and flat budgets. Only 14 percent of respondents disclosed securing a budget increase for 2017 for communications efforts, and 54 percent said they were currently understaffed.

To point out the obvious, it is awfully difficult to add staff without additional budget. It is also incredibly challenging to implement effective measurement programs without adequate staff or budget.

In fact, survey respondents specifically cited staffing, lack of tools, and time challenges as hindering their ability to measure communications.

Thus, the conundrum

If we take the results of both surveys mentioned above at face value, we in public relations are left with a bit of a circular challenge:

  • Public relations work is increasingly recognized as valuable, particularly to implementing effective marketing programs. Because of this, more work is headed our way—eventually.
  • Public relations work will only retain this newfound respect if it can prove its value through solid measurement.
  • Measurement that maps back to business objectives and proves business outcomes are a result of PR efforts takes time, money, and effort.
  • Communicators have revealed that they feel understaffed, unable to complete the work they currently are tasked with, and budgets do not appear to be increasing this year.

The Association of National Advertisers survey results indicated that respondents “plan to increase” staffing and budgets in PR over the next five years. The question is, will these increases even happen if PR cannot prove results in work that is happening right now?

This is the balance beam PR finds itself on currently. Understaffed and stressed, with the only way to prove that more resources of money and staff should come PR’s way is by implementing solid measurement programs on the limited budgets and staffs they currently have.

A suggested path forward

Implementing small, tangible measurement efforts that can fit within current budgets is likely the best way to demonstrate PR value without putting too much additional strain on resources. It also allows PR departments to get more comfortable with measurement—what goes into it, how much time it takes, and how to best convey results. Think of small-scale efforts as pilot programs. A benefit to this approach is that you will have the data to be better able to estimate the staff time and budgetary requirements to expand measurement to a full-blown program.

If even small-scale efforts aren’t an option, PR pros need to study as much as possible. Engage in measurement discussions at conferences or on Twitter chats to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what tools are most effective for programs of different sizes and objectives.

PR has to play the long game here if it expects to be able to match the increasing demands that are coming its way in the next five years or so. Budget increases are rarely granted without solid data behind them. Getting ahead of the curve by measuring now is the only real way to demonstrate that the projected growth of PR is meeting a real business need.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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