Data-driven actions are the future of PR for agencies and professionals alike who wish to remain relevant over the coming decade, according to business growth specialist Chris Savage at CommsCon 2016. They will have a tangible means of measuring and reporting on the “cause and effect” factor of their public relations-driven efforts.
Digital disruption and media redundancies have changed the PR profession irreversibly.
It’s no longer a matter of sidling up to a long-term journo friend with an idea in your head and a wine in your hand to create beautiful column inches together.
Skeleton-staff journalists are stretched beyond capacity.
Advertising and commercial interests are encroaching more than ever on editorial independence.
And the big surge to branded content and owned media is contributing to the traditional advertising landslide taking down jobs, creativity, quality and, critically, vacant editorial real estate.
The good news is the online content property market is booming. Blogs, online news sites, social media, citizen journalism, and branded content sites offer a world of opportunity for public relations professionals willing to make the leap.
The same rules apply – it’s about reputation, relationship, and reciprocal value with your well-known audience – but three things are new:
1. Transactional coverage is easier to get
Relational PR was always the sceptre of great publicists.
Front page stories and double page feature articles were the great nirvana because getting through the layers of editorial assistants, interns, journalists, subs, news editors, section editors and editors to have the ear of those senior writers required chutzpah and street cred.
Today there are so many pixels to colour you can work with little more than a writer’s email address to provide what’s needed to fill in the dots (what we call transactional coverage); and if print is still your game, the layers to the top are few and paper-thin.
2. Online blogs and click-bait driven stories are not part of the fourth estate.
Traditional print press is called “the fourth estate” as a hat-tip to the pre French revolution era built on the social and political “estates” of clergy (the first estate), nobility (the second), and commoners (the third estate).
The media were personified as being outside the realm of these three power structures. The “fourth estate” spoke to media independence, objectivity, and moral imperative to report on facts known to be in the “public interest”.
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Make no mistake, most online content sources do not assume the same mantle.
Bloggers are not journalists. They’re small business owners. They’re people with a passion. They’re writers, artists, photographers, hobbyists, entrepreneurs and visionaries even, but not journalists.
They don’t ascribe to the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics, nor should they be expected to.
What they do have in common with the fourth estate is the love of a great story, an illuminating insight, a sense of discovery, and a pathological buzz from having an audience to their yarns. The future of PR embraces them.
3. Everything is measurable.
A high five over a PR-primed story printed on pulped trees is still fun.
But this new digital world is infinitely more satisfying for the commercially minded professional prepared for the future of PR.
The “cause and effect” of digitised public relations efforts has never been so measurable with the likes of Google Analytics, TrendKite, Coverage Book, Nuvi and a swathe of other online monitoring and measurement tools now at our disposal.
Understanding social reach and influence is a critical component of measuring digital PR effectiveness
These digital tools allow us to factually measure results and see the impact of online coverage in an instant – complete with pretty, meaningful graphs for the visually inclined – available 24×7 in real time without using valuable client budgets cutting and pasting clips and screenshots into chunky PowerPoint slides no-one ever reads.
More than that, we can measure the sales journey of an article, from click throughs, to how much time was spent on our website after the article, and whether the customer downloaded our brochure, e-book or discount voucher, or ended up in the new Shangri-la – our online checkout.
A place for everything, and everything in its place
For some brands, and stakeholders, print and traditional media coverage remains a critical channel to achieving business, sales and marketing objectives.
So, how do we measure success and value of coverage on page three of Women’s Health, or a coveted front page in the top circulating newspapers?
Still used by iSentia and many respected brands to translate editorial value up the chain, Advertising Sales Rates (ASR) or Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) is a default method.
It’s fairly universally understood, so international brands often use it, and it speaks the business and marketing language of dollar figures and ROI.
In broad terms, ASR and AVE are different acronyms for the same thing.
Most, if not all, media monitoring agencies do it the same way: multiply the space taken by a particular piece of coverage by the advertising buy rate. So you can say that piece of coverage has an advertising equivalence of X dollars.
In days gone by, PR people added a multiplier of up to 10 times that advertising equivalence.
The multiplier was justified as an attempt to capture the inherent objectivity and reader influence of editorial versus pure advertising.
The science wasn’t exactly in our favour, and it always raised a few eyebrows in boardrooms.
But the bottom line is this: The multiplier effect, and the concept of ASR/AVE as stand-alone measures have long been discredited by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) as valid tools of measurement – and rightly so.
Our main criticisms of AVEs lie with two notable facts:
A) Inflated numbers inhibit our credibility with other marketing disciplines.
Monitoring agencies are not yet able to distinguish volume of mention, so the advertising equivalence calculation is applied to how much it’d cost to take a paid ad across the entire article space in that particular publication.
In practice, this means one article spanning four pages of Women’s Health will have a big AVE, even if the client name is only mentioned in passing in paragraph 37.
An automated system has no way to account for context. It can’t distinguish in an article between which part your client inclusion is relevant and therefore measurable, and which is not. So it’s all or nothing.
B) Sterile numbers don’t reflect strategic insights, placement value, sentiment or context of the coverage.
Moore Public Relations principal, Carol Moore, said on a recent PRIA Webinar that we can’t rely on “gut feeling” to defend the path we’re taking with a certain PR campaign.
Marketers and businesses want numbers and concrete results. That’s valid. As PR professionals, the onus is on us to set those numbers in context.
The PRIA has introduced an industry standard to help PR practitioners do just that: The Content Analysis Guidelines. This model for measurement and evaluation advocates thorough research backed up with thorough analysis and readies us for the future of PR.
“It’s not big data that makes the difference it’s the big insights,” says Moore, who co-authored the framework. “We needed a system of measurement and reporting that shows what we achieved but is then forward looking that can help inform our next campaign.”
A new model for a new era
As we move full-speed into this era of tangible, data-driven results, reporting too is becoming heavily research focused, with an emphasis on the following elements:
- activity undertaken
- outputs analysed
- outtakes analysed
- outcomes analysed
- organisational or business result
The PRIA recommends a total of 10% of the budget be set aside for this kind of reporting for campaigns.
“You need to be able to sleep at night knowing you can reach your reporting objectives,” says Moore. “This reporting framework allows you to sit down with your client and come up with key indicators of what they’d like to achieve and how you can realistically help them achieve their goals.”
The new framework for measurement and evaluation will provide PR professionals with the basis to prove their value for now; reporting in the PR space will be an evolutionary process as our media and marketing landscape continues to change.
The bottom line
If you’re grappling with how to show clients the real value of PR dollars spent at a time when marketers are presented with a smorgasbord of other marketing opportunities, consider shifting the focus online and investing in digital reporting tools.
If print and traditional media remain core to your communication strategy and audience preferences, look closely at the Content Analysis Guidelines and talk to your preferred media monitoring agency about how to integrate its principles into the way you measure and report results.
Despite what some practitioners may think, this line of analysis is placing PR professionals in a strong and unique position in the digital age, says Isabella Rousis, PR manager at Filtered Media.
“When you think about it, can you really show a tangible value from a billboard or feature in the declining magazine market when you’ve got Google analytics and SEO stats to play with?”
Put your customers first
Recent research by Edelman showed that purchasing decisions are made first through social networks, then via a search engine.
What this means is that people will make up their mind about a brand before they reach out to it directly.
So that influencer you’ve been working with? They likely give your brand a lot more value than the “22,000 followers” cited in your current report, says Rousis.
“Influencers can show you the exact number of Australian visitors jumping onto their blog post about your product. They can also show you the amount of people going from that blog post to your website. The good ones happily send you a screenshot of their Google Analytics page so you can see the figures and demographics first-hand.”
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So, as PR storytellers, the pressure is as intense as ever to show tangible results to prove our worth in a frenzied marketing communications market.
In closing the CommsCon Conference, Chris Savage reiterated this fact in a salient message about the future of PR:
“Clients often know which communications disciple they want, but not what they need. So when marketers are looking at where to put their dollars, effective and robust campaign measurement and evaluation will show PR as the best bet.”
For more on the role of data in public relations, we’ve got an episode of the CMO Show dedicated to data!