Path to purchase, or road to nowhere?

Next time a senior executive asks what the organisation gets in return for its investment in PR, the very worst answers you can give (or receive!) are “X number of press releases”, “X volume of articles”, “X impressions” or “£X AVE”.

Justifying investment isn’t about counting activities or using spurious vanity metrics. It’s about demonstrating that the organisation gets tangible commercial benefit from its expenditure. To achieve that, it’s essential to back up any request for PR budget with a more executive-friendly explanation of what’s in it for the business.

Too often, PR is reactive rather than strategic. Pushing out a press release when there’s a story, instead of thinking about concrete communication objectives that help to deliver aspects of the organisation’s strategy. Treating any scrap of information – new appointments, new product releases – as news, when in truth it doesn’t fit anyone’s news agenda except your own. Hoping a journalist – any journalist – will take the bait, when the priority should be to give them great content that will engage their readership.

Doing PR well means focusing on the interests and expectations of the audience. It means engaging the audience to further genuine business goals – yes, protecting reputation but also increasing sales or acting as the spark for other interactions that reflect strategic priorities.

Not surprisingly, most organisations don’t think PR can deliver this. Strategic conversations about what PR delivers as part of the marketing mix are regrettably rare. That’s why robust PR effectiveness metrics and insights are a game-changer.  They enable strategic, well-informed conversations about why great, well-managed PR activities can augment brand marketing and advertising performance, putting PR investment squarely on the path to purchase rather than the road to nowhere.

So, here are five tips to help you position PR within your organisation as a purposeful, structured activity guided by strategic intent:

1. Recognise and report trends over time

Measuring any isolated activity without comparing it like-for-like to previous activity can’t reveal improvements over time, or help you understand what’s going wrong. PR metrics should incorporate time-series data, so that trends become apparent in context

2. Build on themes that drive audience engagement

Using content analysis to only identify themes and messages you want to get across limits the potential of evaluation. Focus instead on what is capturing the audience’s attention. Work out which other themes occur in media content and discover which topics prompt the audience to behave in a certain way, such as performing a search or visiting your website

3. Understand which named target media work best for your audience

Recognising that not all media are equally effective at engaging your target audience is the starting point for making strategic targeting decisions. Having a great relationship with a journalist isn’t enough. Knowing which media deliver the largest size of audience that actually responds to content is infinitely better than counting press releases or volume of coverage and can produce a targeting approach that significantly improves results

4. Quantify the impact of activity on real business outcomes

Finding a media evaluation solution that can statistically identify relationships between communication activities and the things executives care about (such as purchase intent, sales revenues and share price) will revolutionise your reporting and your PR strategy

5. Know when you are making a difference – and when you’re not

Any metric that tells you PR works all the time is wrong. There are times when activities land well with the audience and there are times when communication – whether for a commercial organisation, a healthcare campaign or a government information campaign – does a belly flop. On the other hand, being able to prove to decision makers how PR results compare to those generated by advertising, paid social or other aspects of the communications mix is a strategic coup.

At Metricomm, we know that PR is enormously powerful. More powerful than most PR professionals realise and far more powerful than executives give it credit for. If you want to switch your PR efforts to a more strategic approach, backed up by effectiveness analysis that is based on audience behaviour and business results, get in touch