Not a new debate, granted, yet fascinatingly (and in spite of the evolution in the way PR delivers outcomes) reporting metrics are still playing catch-up.
Yes, some clients still request AVE and coverage tracking providers still add it to the top of clippings, but isn’t it about time our industry took a collective approach to driving change? Honestly it’s been a conversation that has dragged on too long and while there is in principle agreement in the industry, it’s time for action and real change.
Reporting metrics have always been difficult for PR. On a quantitative level we can report on the number of hits and reach until the cows come home, while on a qualitative level, we can analyse said coverage based on key messages, sentiment and more – but how is that proving business results for clients? We know and understand the power of word-of-mouth and third party endorsement, but isn’t it about time we proved our worth in more than just, well… words and subjective figures?
With some PR agencies moving towards a more integrated approach (like Magnum & Co), it’s been necessary for those fostering change to adapt new reporting methods and techniques to prove true impact, from using Google Analytics to track referral traffic driven through SEO and link building PR efforts, to managing direct ticket and product sales via social media activities. This is all well and good but what about those ‘not lucky’ enough to land an integrated campaign? How do those agencies prove to senior business managers and owners that PR (thinking beyond traditional media relations) can be (especially in the case of millennials) just as powerful a tool as paid advertising?
> The shift – as people have started to cotton on
The main shift we’ve seen over the past few years is the swift exit of AVE and the introduction of CPC or CPM (cost per contact or cost per thousand), a reporting metric long used across many industries and recommended by PRIA, yet something that is still to be adopted and understood by many working in our industry. Since it was realised AVE was redundant, it was imperative that the PR industry found a new way to place a monetary value on our efforts and herein lies a solution.
When comparing CPC/CPM in PR (dollar for dollar) with other forms of marcomms, PR programmes typically don’t require as much investment as say an advertising campaign, and as such often deliver better ROI. Perhaps that’s the reason less money is invested in sophisticated measurement and evaluation because they’re not spending enough to have to really prove the impact…
While there lies a few unanswered questions, the point remains that CPC/CPM has finally given the PR industry some ammo to prove its ROI potential and can present an interesting debate amongst marketeers with regards to allocation of spend.
So that’s great, right? Finally a way to reintroduce a dollar figure since the death of AVE and a simple way for marketers to compare the cost vs. output of PR activities alongside wider comms. But can we do better?
The Barcelona Principles have for some time discussed the need to move beyond outputs and outcomes and into business results, not simply presenting numbers on a page but getting to the crux of what impact the activity has had on a client’s business. With PR being a channel, it’s not often included in marketing mix mapping and brand tracking so we need to prove our worth in other ways.
> No marketing element exists in silo, including PR
Due to the fact PR doesn’t exist in silo, nor should it be measured as such, there’s some work to do in encouraging clients to adopt the reporting measures and tools that can allow PR to be evaluated as part of the wider marketing mix.
So, the next question we need to be asking ourselves is, have we really changed perceptions, behaviours, preferences or attitudes? And if so, how do we prove it?
The next step and something of great focus to Magnum & Co, is to adopt PR specific research based evaluation, using tracking survey techniques to understand from a consumer perspective, how our comms has enforced an element of ‘change’. Currently brand tracking tools used in the ad world could be adopted, but the cost to report in this way will be significant for both agency and in turn the client so the question becomes… how important is it to brands to know what their money is getting them? Pretty important we would hope.
That said, as mentioned earlier, PR costs less than advertising and as such, the challenge is showing that proving its worth isn’t less valuable.
It’s undoubted that new tools and data-driven platforms will become immediately available to allow for more efficient and in-depth measurement processes so in the meantime agencies and PR analytics providers will continue to explore their own ways to prove the PR-to-business results connection to clients.
Hint. I’ve been building to something here… Keep an eye out over the coming months – we have some news on that front!
Words by Rachel Wotherspoon, Account Director