Unleashing the Power of PR

By Bob Geller, Senior Vice President, NY

PR measurement is becoming increasingly important in our profession. Fusion PR Forum is pleased to feature the following interview, with Mark Weiner, author of Unleashing the Power of PR, a Contrarian’s Guide to Marketing and Communications published by Jossey-Bass, a division of John Wiley & Sons. This book presents a research and numbers driven approach to PR planning and execution.

Mark Weiner is Senior Vice President of Cision, formerly known as Delahaye.

I chatted with him about his book, what it means for the PR profession and how his advice can be applied for both large and small agencies and clients. Below is the Q&A, enjoy!

Contest: Also, we are giving away a free signed copy of the book. To be included in the raffle just add a comment to this post with your email address and you could be the lucky winner. Good luck!

What is your book about and why is it a “Contrarian’s Guide?”

Unleashing the Power of PR, a Contrarian’s Guide to Marketing and Communications was written for two audiences.

The book helps marketers, the ones who traditionally own the PR investment, understand that PR really can do “heavy lifting.” PR is not generally recognized among marketers for being as powerful as it is, consistently generating a better return than mass-market advertising and price promotions. Because advertising and discounts are the favorite choices among marketers, a position promoting the primacy of PR is a contrarian position for this audience.

It gives PR people ways to properly quantify the contribution of PR and prove that it works. For a variety of reasons, most PR people choose not to quantify. By suggesting a position as I do that PR is as much a science as it is an art is a contrarian position for this audience, throughout the industry, across small companies and large companies, and at small and large PR agencies.

You say that overall business goals should shape PR objectives, which in turn should drive strategies and tactics. All this should be grounded in thorough research and measurement, before, during and after programs, in a continuous feedback loop that uses actual results to guide subsequent planning and implementation cycles. It seems like good, common sense. Yet, I am not convinced that it is a widespread practice in our profession. What are your thoughts?

There is little evidence to show that it is practiced in a widespread way. A number of organizations and publications (e.g. PRSA, IABC, PR Week and The Strategist) have come out with hard numbers to support that measurement by and large is not commonly practiced, or if done at all, it is only over a small percentage of the overall PR effort.

PR is now at a crossroads: You have the people who fund PR programs, who would love to see a measurable return but don’t know enough about PR to direct the measurement program. And you have PR people, who know little about measurement and by and large choose not to measure. As a result, there is stasis and PR continues to be under-appreciated as a result.

What PR people need to understand is that you need to prove value in order to make both internal and external clients feel good about their investments and to increase their levels of investment.

If you can actually prove ROI with hard numbers, it makes the value equation much simpler.

Is there published data supporting your contention that PR delivers disproportionate returns?

The emerging evidence is being accumulated through a statistical modeling process known as “marketing mix modeling” in which case companies assemble performance data from various marketing endeavors as well as sales data segmented by market, by initiative over time. You need a sizable investment in marketing and promotion under a research-driven umbrella spanning years, you must have a significant number of retail transactions, you need lots of data to represent all of the marketing and the resulting transactions and only then can you begin to do statistical modeling. Companies that go to that extent usually consider the results to be highly confidential trade secrets and do not share their data.

A notable exception is the Procter & Gamble case study, which was covered in my book. This also appeared in a number of media accounts.

Is it possible to evaluate PR’s return without proving ROI through marketing mix modeling (statistical driven analysis that leverages data spanning all marketing elements and years)?

Let me isolate “ROI” from “proving value.” ROI is a financial term which denotes the amount of money either brought into or retained by the organization factored by the amount of money expended. This is what marketing mix modeling does. For most practitioners, this is not a practical alternative. For them, there are consistent opportunities to “prove value,” which is to say, demonstrate to your client’s satisfaction that the money is well-spent. The method we’ve found to deliver both ROI and Value are the Impact Score and Net Effect. By setting hard objectives, one can use these measures to determine the role of PR in moving the needle against them.

[Fusion Blog note: The Impact Score, as explained in Mark’s book, is a measure of PR effectiveness. The concept was inspired by the advertising industry’s Gross Rating Point system. According to the book, it is “the first distilled measure for the purposes of planning and evaluating media activity… The Impact Score is a composite of Prominence and Tone that becomes a quality score… ‘Net Effect’ is the result of the Reach of an individual news item multiplied by its Impact Score. Results are combined to determine an overall Net Effect for a specific period of time.
”]

Is it practical for smaller companies and agencies to show PR’s influence, without measurement initiatives that might be too costly? It would seem detailed measuring can rival or exceed the cost of the PR program

You can adapt scores for all budgets. For example, you could just check the easy stuff – whether a photo is present, or for headline mentions. More information gives you more ways to generate results.

Again, this is for the benefit of PR. If you are unable to deliver results from a major market daily, the client might be disappointed, right? But if you have a broader base of measurement showing the impact of PR across a broad spectrum of media, spanning a variety of PR measures over the long term, you have many more ways to win. At the same time, the client begins to see the bigger picture and starts to recognize PR success within a broader context.

As content of all types – news articles, opinion and commentary – increasingly migrate online are the tools to measure and evaluate PR results improving and becoming more accessible?

The tools for gathering content are greatly enhanced over what was available just a few years ago. Similarly, the technology being used to process content are better than they’ve ever been. However, just as PR is a profession based on context and nuance, totally computerized content analysis tools aren’t where they need to be just yet. As Einstein said, “computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” It is the combination that produces accurate, consistent and timely results and I speculate that while margins of error via totally computerized content analysis will continue to fall, human perspective will always be required. What is more, the interpretive analysis and strategic guidance which fully unleashes the potential for content analysis to be applied can not be automated.

So, you still need some mix of human and computer effort to analyze results. In terms of surveys and focus groups, online tools are helping the Web democraticize the process. Over all, technology is being applied to PR research in ways that technology is applied in many other business situations, but technology has limitations.

Where can readers go to learn more?

In addition to the sources listed in my book, they can go to http://www.cision.com and www.instituteforpr.org. Also, there is a famous series of studies done by USC Annenberg called GAP.

3 Comments
  • PMacchia

    April 17, 2007 at 11:53 am Reply

    Tech + Tools +Strategy + Chutzpah + Tenaciousness + Luck + (Fill in your own blank) = a good PR program. No matter how big or small the client. But, no matter how much advances there are with information, you can never forego the human element.

  • Suzanne

    April 17, 2007 at 11:54 am Reply

    Thanks much for the interview as the topic of measurement is vital to our industry. I think a strong component to the “value” discussion revolves around education. Often clients have one opinion of PR, while the agency has a completely different one. The key is for both parties to be up front in the beginning of the program so that success is understood. I find that many companies, especially startups, don’t necessarily understand the power of PR or how to really leverage their agency. As professionals we need to take that on ourselves as a natural part of the process. In doing this, we set the stage for evaluating and analyzing the program.

  • Bob Geller

    April 17, 2007 at 1:14 pm Reply

    Thanks for the comments. To Suzanne’s point, part of the process recommended in the book is the Executive Audit.

    This is a survey that is used at the outset to determine what key execs and program sponsors expect and want out of their PR investment.

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