Do you have a PR Business Partner in your organisation?

 

We’ve all become familiar with the term HR Business Partner, meaning a professional who aligns people strategy with business strategy. So why doesn’t PR position itself that way, as a strategic function with deep expertise, aligning communication strategy to business success?

It all comes back to the old chestnut – PR covets a seat at the top table but persists in reporting its contribution in ways which are fundamentally flawed and fail to demonstrate any quantifiable relationship between comms activity and business outcomes. In short, many PR professionals don’t speak the language of the boardroom. Therefore, they are marginalised in a role often described as ‘protecting reputation’ and ‘raising awareness’ when they could be so much more.

PR can be transformed into a strategically aligned role, supporting top-level objectives and the bottom line. We’ve worked with organisations where comms leaders are working in real partnership with senior executives to discover whether they are making a difference and realign activity where necessary to support business goals. Fundamental to this shift is having the right data about PR and comms performance. This is not about flimsy metrics or guesstimates. It’s about providing hard evidence that media relations can directly impact competitive advantage and help build profitable relationships with customers.

Our Client Director, Karen Williams, has worked alongside brands and organisations wanting to maximise the power of media coverage in achieving strategic goals. Her own experience as a senior in-house comms leader means she understands the business imperatives that need to be addressed by an effective PR Business Partner. Here, she shares five tips for comms professionals wanting to elevate their role.

  1. Turn your focus inward for a while

In many organisations, comms is a firefighting role, responding to media enquiries and dealing with perceived or real threats to reputation. In others, it operates in a vacuum, unilaterally setting objectives and KPIs that usually begin with counting how many articles can be achieved. This results in a task-oriented approach, with agency relationships geared to deliver volume over value. To become a true PR Business Partner, the comms lead has to understand the organisation’s commercial drivers and become thoroughly conversant with ‘what success looks like’ from the boardroom perspective. Only then can in-house teams and agencies deliver what executives care about.

  1. Leave the comfort zone

We all understand the concept of integrated marketing, where the whole delivers outcomes that are greater than the sum of its parts. Too often, PR sits a little apart, in a comfort zone where day-to-day activities are well executed, but the familiar refrain, ‘It’s not my job to deliver sales’ is an easy excuse. Stepping outside this comfort zone and challenging that ingrained perception of PR’s role entails a change of mindset that can be daunting. Instead of languishing in the comfort zone, a PR Business Partner asks other marketing colleagues ‘How can I help?’ and can offer constructive suggestions, backed up by evidence that PR makes a powerful contribution in the overall marketing mix. Which brings us neatly to the next point:

  1. Use data effectively to showcase achievements

CMOs are still struggling with a lack of data and analysis skills within their teams. While 82% of respondents to a 2022 UK survey acknowledged that data and analytics are crucial to business growth, 79% also believed that it would take two to five years to develop best-in-class data and analytics. PR is one of the main offenders and in many cases, there is a dogged reluctance to engage with numbers. Even worse, there is often a reliance on spurious and meaningless metrics which are poorly understood and reported by rote. To become a true PR Business Partner, the comms lead must develop more sophisticated data and analysis skills within the team. The days are gone when PR was only about words and creativity but too many in the profession still blanch at the mention of statistics or when asked to interpret a chart. Now, it’s not just about providing metrics, it’s essential to be able to explain them, challenge the data, provide genuine insights and answer the ‘So what?’ question to make the CMO, CFO and CEO sit up and take notice. As PWC puts it in a November 2022 CMO study, there’s an urgent need to balance the art and the science of marketing – and that includes PR.

  1. Speak the language of business

In the boardroom, nobody cares how many media articles have been published, or their estimated reach. Activity is only fit for the C-suite if it can be shown to have bearing on tangible business results. It is now possible to prove that comms activity has a direct impact, not just on audience opinions, but on behaviour. The PR Business Partner discusses not the outputs of the team but uses the language of business success – impact on consideration and sales, impact on share price, impact on advertising effectiveness, moving customers through the funnel and making a demonstrable contribution to revenue. And yes, it’s also possible to measure market positioning and organisational reputation in quantifiable, robust ways that can be tracked to reveal changes over time and compared with key competitors.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ‘fail’

In an organisation, most people have great ideas that don’t work out from time to time. Sales directors don’t always meet their targets. New products don’t always achieve the rapturous customer reception the developers anticipated. PR Business Partners will also occasionally suggest communication approaches that are less successful. The key is to be able to understand these in context, to recognise when PR works and when it doesn’t, and to incorporate these learnings into planning.  Taking a strategic view means boldly and rigorously evaluating effectiveness, comparing one activity to another over time and benchmarking against competitors. Most importantly, it means not trying to put a glossy interpretation on an average performance and being brutally honest when things don’t go as well as expected.

For those operating as true PR Business Partners, traditional media metrics are just the starting point for demonstrating value. Partnership entails genuine collaboration with colleagues and engagement with their goals. It necessitates open-mindedness and curiosity, which look beyond reputational ‘threats’ to identify positive opportunities to influence behaviour. An October 2023 article by McKinsey explains how the most effective CMOs operate by feeding nuggets of relevant data and insight to the CEO. These relationships can create ‘outsized growth’. There is no reason why PR Business Partners cannot emulate or participate in this dialogue.

Are you ready to be a PR Business Partner? Metricomm can help you align the power of PR with what your boss really wants to talk about. Let’s have a conversation – email hello@metricomm.com or enter the form below.