You Ask, I Answer: PR's Value to Non-PR Stakeholders?

Del asks, “Which metric will be most important to communicate PR’s value to a non-PR audience?”

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In today’s question, Dell asks, “Which metric is most important to communicate PR’s value to a non-PR audience? What result do you create? What outcome does PR generate?” If you don’t know the answer to that, then the metric doesn’t matter, right? Generally speaking, public relations (PR) has two primary outcomes: awareness and trust. If you do it well, you should be creating awareness of your company, products, or services, or whatever it is you’re promoting, and you should be increasing the public’s trust in that through the use of credible third parties. For example, if you want a full page of copy in The New York Times, you can do that by buying a full-page ad, but if you want something credible as a third-party endorsement, then you have to work for that editorial. Not just by the ad, you can always buy the ad, but generally speaking, consumers don’t find ads to be credible.

So the question then is, how do you measure awareness and trust? Trust is measurable mainly through market research, asking consumers things like an NPS question. For example, “What is your intent to recommend Left-handed Smoke Shifters Incorporated to a family or friend in the next 90 days?” If the answer is always “never,” you know you have a trust problem. But if people are just unwilling to recommend you to family and friends, that’s a problem too. The same goes for asking a question like “What is your intent to purchase from Left-handed Smoke Shifters Incorporated in the next 90 days?” If everyone says “no intent to purchase,” then you know you have a problem, and your PR strategy is not working if those numbers are persistently low.

In terms of awareness, unaided recall is the gold standard for brand awareness. So again, market research going out to the market to your target consumers and asking them to name three brands of coffee. And if you’re a coffee shop and your brand is not one of those three, you know you’re not generating measurable awareness. There are some proxy metrics that you can use, like social media data to some degree, but social media data tends to have a lot of problems, and the better source of data as a proxy is organic search, particularly branded organic search. How many people search for your brand name by name every month? For example, how many people search for Trust Insights every month? If the answer is zero, then you know you have an awareness problem because people don’t know to ask for you by name. Branded organic search is one of the most important and overlooked metrics in public relations. It’s something that people don’t spend enough time on.

But unaided brand recall is one of the best measures of PR, advertising, or anything where you want to know, “Do people know us? Have people heard of us?” One of the challenges you’ll run into is that, particularly for larger companies, you will have a lot of conflated data. There may be a major PR campaign occurring at the same time as an ad campaign, at the same time as an email marketing campaign, at the same time as a social media campaign. So one of the things you’ll have to do is some fairly sophisticated statistics, something called uplift modeling, that will allow you to say, “Let’s take out all the business as usual stuff, things that would have happened anyway, let’s take out, to the extent we can, other channels that are not PR, and then look at what’s left in the data. And if we still see a bump, even after you’ve taken away all the other stuff, then you know that bump is the impact that public relations had.” But uplift modeling requires you to have lots of data in good condition to be able to understand what happened with a PR campaign.

That said, if numbers like branded organic search or unaided recall are zero, then you know for sure that PR isn’t working and isn’t providing any value. So those would be the places to start when measuring PR and communicating its value, which is very challenging because in a lot of cases, you have to do some fairly sophisticated mathematics. Most public relations professionals, not all but most, are not mathematically inclined to things like advanced statistics, linear algebra, and calculus, which are tools you need to do that kind of mathematics. But that’s how you prove the value of PR, particularly to a non-PR audience, using uplift models to say, “Yes, we increased brand awareness by X percent, which should yield X amount of revenue.” That’s going to be music to a CFO’s ears, but you have to work really hard to get to that point in your data.

So, it’s a good question, a challenging question, but worth pursuing. If you liked this video, go ahead and hit that subscribe button.


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