As we prepare for the new year, it may be a good time to think about the importance of demonstrating value to our clients. To do so effectively, we have to agree on what we're measuring. While we as PR professionals can't always isolate or align a specific strategy to a company's business results, we can do a better job of working with our clients to devise measures specific to the relationship. Ambiguity in this area is, more often than not, a function of poor communication rather than an inability to measure results. Here are just a few examples of how communication can break down:
• Agency people who are trying to win a new piece of business will promise prospective clients the moon, the stars, you name it - whatever it takes to get them to agree to the xx thousand dollar a month retainer.
• Some agency people loathe to talk about money, let alone be pinned down to provide specifics regarding what a client can expect for a return on investment. They're so happy just to win the business that talks of finances and accountability somehow compromise the moment.
• Long ago, the agency world weakened the PR brand by suggesting that one can measure the value of media coverage based on a multiple of ad equivalencies. Three times the ad rate, five times the ad rate - just pick a number. It was not only arbitrary, but also defined PR value only in terms of media relations and editorial coverage. All other aspects of the discipline were left out in the cold. (Thanks for that!)
• Clients wanted to know what they were getting for their money, but were inconsistent about what they asked for. For example, does $5,000 per month get me x number of press releases or does $5,000 per month get me coverage in the New York Times, etc.? What CAN you tell me?
• Clients don't always understand what PR does, and we haven't exactly done a stellar job clarifying the matter. If your client isn't sure what PR is really supposed to do, then you certainly can't expect them to understand how it can be measured.
• Clients and PR people don't sit down and have honest talks about what motivates an organization's PR effort, the aspects of PR they seek to employ, or their definition of success and how to measure it.
Before you start crunching the numbers and breaking out the excel spreadsheets, talk to your clients first. Really talk. Find out what it is they'd like to achieve through public relations. Outline the objectives, agree on the strategies, and define the measurement tools. Understand what success looks like to your clients and be clear about what you can do to help them realize that success.
That's the measure of a true PR professional.