How you do you prove the value of something that you can’t really measure?

It’s a tricky question, and one that has plagued the public relations industry since time immemorial.

Historically, coming up against advertising in traditional print media, public relations has therefore attempted to measure itself on the same terms – using a standard known as ‘advertising value equivalent’. This is a fairly base exercise, measuring the editorial space secured via media relations with the corresponding cost in buying an advert of the same size.

But this method is out-dated and flawed in the twenty-first century with internet media, and the change in shape of the consumption of news and information.

So how do you convince potential buyers of the business case for investing in public relations, when you’re trying to measure an art and not a science?

Firstly, the power of PR has to be understood.

But it has to be understood in terms of its potential as a tool for bottom line growth, not just as a brand building exercise.

We know that PR as a marketing function has the capacity to deliver high value. Coverage secured in the media, unlike buying advertising space, has been through the process of an editorial filter.

The higher the tier of media titles – such as the national press – the tougher the filter, and, therefore, the commensurate value of the coverage. And the higher the value the coverage, the more likely that it will translate into future commercial interest.

Now, if we go a bit further and extrapolate the difference between sheer visibility and commercial value, we have to acknowledge the vital role of company messaging.

A weighty coverage book doesn’t mean that a PR campaign has delivered on all its key performance indicators, if that coverage is generic. But, coverage that demonstrates clear messaging that separates firms from their competitors and creates value for products and services has a higher commercial impact.

Explaining the subtleties of difference between coverage for coverage’s sake and the translation of commercially relevant messages is therefore fundamental to demonstrating how to effectively use the power of public relations.

Secondly, the relevancy of PR campaigns in modern communications must also be justified.

There are many ways of distilling commercial messages these days, but the correct tool for the job must be chosen. Trying to persuade corporate buyers of the strength of a business-to-business offering isn’t really going to resonate over Twitter or other social media. But, a well-placed by-line discussing the challenges of a particular market dynamic for customers, should.

Other marketing disciplines have their value, of course, but for corporate business- to-business communications and marketing activity, public relations tends to be the most effective medium.

In the short term it generates immediately visible coverage and media traction. The backbone of any corporate PR campaign should be a positive drip feed of commercial wins and success stories. Not to the point of nauseum, of course, but rather at an interval that enables markets to be aware of the continued commercial success of the firm.

In the longer term, it creates relationships with editorial influences – key journalists and commentators, who will come back to the business for future news and views, brining about wider visibility

Thirdly, a well-planned communications campaign should generate the right kind of results.

PR is an exercise in engagement. It should therefore generate in-bound enquiries from clients and prospects, looking to find out more about the business and offering.

Whilst some elements of social media can also drive engagement, this again tends to be for business-to-consumer enterprises, where communicating simply with a diverse customer base is most effective.

For longer term more nuanced engagement, public relations tends to provide the most effective corporate engagement. The variety of the trade media, national and international business pages ensures that business development managers can potentially engage with very large audiences.

In short, explaining the value of PR and what it can deliver isn’t a brief conversation, in the same way that a PR campaign isn’t a quick win. It takes time to fully understand the strength of a good PR offering and access all its benefits.

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If this has gotten you thinking – you have some questions – or you want to talk to us about what happens next, then please drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

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