Christopher S. Penn recently took to task the Barcelona Principles for PR measurement, arguing that its admonition to measure the bottom of the funnel — sales — wasn’t a fair or accurate way of assessing performance.
Regular readers of my posts and social network updates no doubt understand that I have a great appreciation for his work, but this happens to be one of the few areas where we disagree.
Here’s the essence of Penn’s argument:
First, imagine you have a coffee shop. It’s got salespeople at the registers, the environment is optimized for marketing with the right music and decor, and you run a PR campaign to make people aware of it and come walk in. One day, you forget to open the coffee shop. The PR campaign is still running, bringing people to the front door, but the door is locked. In this simplistic example, if you measured all the way down the funnel, the ROI of your PR is zero because you made zero revenue. You weren’t open. PR did not fail to do its job.
Here’s a more realistic example. Say you’re a B2B company with a complex selling process. You sell expensive products like software to finicky buyers. You have a stellar PR program that gets people to your virtual or real door. Your trade show booth is always mobbed. People love you. Your marketing is doing a great job. Lots of people are raising their hands, downloading white papers and attending your webinars. You’re a rockstar by every marketing measure there is.
But… in the back room is Lazy Larry the Inept Salesman. Lazy Larry doesn’t return calls or emails. Lazy Larry forgets appointments constantly. Lazy Larry’s closing rate for sales is roughly about the same as the chances of you being hit by lightning. The only reason your company stays in business is because the most dedicated prospective customers find their way around Lazy Larry.
Chris quite rightly points out that other things impact the success of the company beyond just the PR campaign’s performance. It certainly must be accounted for in any measurement system. However, to ignore what happens further down the funnel misses the point.
For example, by Penn’s logic, Larry the sales rep should not be held accountable if he thinks the product sucks or if he believes the leads that PR generates are garbage. Certainly, these factors should be considered, but you can’t judge performance in isolation.
PR needs to work closely enough with the company to know when the store will be closed — even perhaps relatively unexpectedly. If the lazy sales rep is an obstacle, PR must adjust and produce more leads of the sort that are willing to get around the sales rep. Continuing to load the top of the funnel and then saying “it’s not our problem” when those leads don’t close simply puts PR in a silo.
Good PR needs to produce leads for the top of the funnel that are of the right quality in the right quantity at the right time. Otherwise, you might have a good theoretical PR program, but not an effective, practical one.
That’s why you need to measure further down the funnel and not simply wash your hands of problems later on in the marketing/sales process.