One of the most common requests I’ve received in my work in public relations is, “how do we connect our public relations efforts to business results?”. This question – and its many variations – is a disguise for a much simpler question: How does PR help me make money / not get fired?
Public relations is a tool for building awareness and trust. Those are our primary outcomes. When public relations works well, people know our company, our products, our services, and positively associate with them.
PR Isn’t Sales
Public relations is not a tool for selling things. We do not make direct sales in public relations; we are not sales people. The problem that public relations solves is a lack of awareness and trust, not a lack of conversion or revenue. If conversion is the problem, fix that with better sales training or better marketing. Do we help generate awareness of a product or service which eventually leads to a sale? Yes. Do we help build confidence in a brand to nurture or ease the selling process? Yes.
The analogy I often use is that we help bring people to the front door of the shop. If the door is locked, we can’t fix that. If the sales person is on their break or called in sick, we can’t fix that.
The Impact of PR
This leads to the next question, “what is the impact of public relations if we don’t sell things?”. The reason we struggle to answer this question, as an industry, is because we are unwilling to invest in the tools, techniques, and strategies that lead to sound, effective measurement.
We use digital marketing tools in public relations to assess the quantitative impact of PR activity. We look at impressions, unique monthly visitors, website traffic, social media engagements, website form submissions, organic search keywords – every form of quantitative data available to us. There’s nothing wrong with quantitative data, especially if you want to answer the question, “what happened?”.
What’s wrong with this approach is that we try to force quantitative analysis to answer qualitative questions. We try to force answers which tell us what happened to also explain to us why.
No amount of quantitative data will ever answer the qualitative question, “Why?“.
- Why did the consumer make a specific choice?
- Why did the consumer buy two of an item rather than one?
- Why did a customer pick up the phone and call us?
- Why did our friend recommend a company to us?
- Why did we open and read an email from a sender we didn’t recognize?
We cannot substitute quantitative data for the qualitative process of asking our customers why they behave the way they do.
The Root Cause of Lack of PR Impact
Where we are deficient in our measurement of public relations (as well as marketing) is in answering the why questions.
What’s the cause of this deficiency?
Time, effort, and money.
To answer “why” questions well, we need to invest a lot of time, effort, and money:
- Qualitative studies take time, time for us to sit down with actual customers or prospects and talk to them one-on-one.
- Qualitative studies take significant effort, from survey design to focus group administration.
- Qualitative studies require money, either and soft dollars for our efforts or in hard dollars to market research companies to do the work for us.
If we lack those insights, there’s no way for us to put together an effective strategy to move forward.
Why is answering the why questions so important? Our work in public relations is about building awareness and trust.
We can quantify awareness to some degree, but we cannot see inside the heads of our customers and prospective customers. To truly understand awareness, we need to ask our prospective customers.
More important, we cannot quantify trust in any meaningful sense.
Thus, in order to properly value the impact of public relations, we must do just as much qualitative research as we do quantitative research.
Yet, most companies are not willing to make the level of investment needed to do proper market research on an ongoing basis. Companies will, at best, do a qualitative research project once or twice a year. To truly judge the impact of public relations requires ongoing study, so that we see changes in our customers’ behavior and ask them why their behavior is changing.
Once we have qualitative data, we blend it with quantitative data to understand our customer behavior, then modify our sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations strategies to align with our customers. That’s how we create true business impact, true business results with public relations.
How Much to Invest in Measurement
The rule of thumb I recommend for investing in measurement is that for every dollar you invest in any form of marketing, advertising, or public relations, 25 cents of that dollar should go towards measurement – both qualitative and quantitative.
Examine what you currently spend on marketing overall, and ask what percentage of that is spent on measurement. If it’s less than 25%, you are underinvesting in measurement and research, which means you may not be effectively spending the other 75% of your budget, and you are very likely not capturing the impact of public relations, advertising, or marketing.
The secret to growth – and impactful public relations – is to invest in effective qualitative and quantitative measurement from day one.
Ready to learn more about how SHIFT can help you tie your PR efforts to bottom-line business results, get in touch!
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology