Metricomm, which uses big data to understand the effectiveness of PR and its impact on business outcomes, has uncovered how media coverage can deliver long-term benefits beyond the direct impact of news announcements. The long-term effect, which Metricomm calls “PR utility”, adds further value to the benefit of PR, which Metricomm believes has been considerably underestimated by the marketing and communication industry.
Before discussing PR utility let’s quickly recap on PR effectiveness, which can be measured and quantified when there is a direct association between audience reaction and media coverage, usually as the result of a news announcement. A typical example was the announcement made by Bacardi around its partnership with Deliveroo to deliver cocktails at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Figure 1 shows the impact of the announcement on UK Google searches for ‘Bacardi Deliveroo’ when the announcement was made in April, 2020.
Fig 1. Impact of Bacardi/Deliveroo announcement on audience interest measured by UK Google searches for ‘Bacardi Deliveroo’ in April, 2020.
Metricomm uses powerful statistical analysis to determine the likelihood that media coverage has been truly effective in generating consumer interest, based on the size and timing of audience reaction. In this instance UK Google search data was used because it is a very good indicator of consumer interest, but this could just as easily be website visits or product sales. In the case of the Bacardi Deliveroo announcement this likelihood was 99.9%, which is as close to certain as it is possible to be. Other factors, such as the effect of any advertising, social media, etc, can also be taken into account as part of the analysis, if and where necessary.
It was while carrying out PR effectiveness analyses such as this that Metricomm realised something else was happening. The company takes meticulous care to ensure that interpretation of results is robust and always errs on the side of caution, but even after every precaution had been taken to rule out spurious and random effects, the ‘extra’ signal still persisted. It was this that turned out to be PR utility, which largely explains an important role played by public relations in the marketing process. Similar in ways to the long-term effect of advertising and just as, if not even more powerful.
Intuitively, we look for the impact of media coverage on consumer behaviour but, of course, consumer behaviour also has an impact on topics and issues that appear in media coverage. When a trend develops it is covered by the media, which in turn reinforces the trend, which leads to more coverage, which again reinforces the trend and so on.
We can use another Bacardi example here to demonstrate what we mean. One of the key trends accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic has been the growth of canned cocktails, known as ‘ready to drink’ (RTD) by the drinks industry. What better way to share a drink with a socially distanced friend on a warm summer’s day than to toss them a can of ice-cold Pina Colada? (Let’s face it, we all love Pina Colada even if we’re ashamed to admit it)!
While the RTD market has been growing for some time the pandemic lit a fuse under the trend, with manufacturers taking advantage of the health benefits of lower alcohol cocktails and rising demand for complex flavours not easily achieved at home. Journalists – stuck in lockdown like everyone else – were soon covering the delights of a rapidly expanding canned cocktail bonanza; and so the virtuous circle of media coverage and growing trend of consumer interest in RTD cocktails took hold.
This is a classic example of PR utility at work (see figure 2). The obvious question for many will be why is this ‘PR utility’ and not effectiveness? The answer is that while PR through media coverage will undoubtedly have played a very useful role in accelerating the trend towards RTD cocktails, the trend was primarily driven by circumstances around the pandemic. On top of that, of course, other marketing activities such as digital advertising will also have played a role, although even here the amplification effect of media coverage will have been a significant factor.
Fig 2. This chart reveals where UK Google searches for ready to drink and canned cocktails are strongly related to online media coverage about RTD and canned cocktails, in this case for Bacardi. Although we cannot say media coverage was responsible for driving the trend, we can say the likelihood that media coverage contributed to it was at least 99%. This is a classic case of PR utility at work.
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