From the desk of Patrick Ward...
Over the past few weeks, we have been discussing the challenges and benefits of measurement of PR programs. As we have said in other installments, measurement represents a critical issue in this economic climate, but it is also frequently misunderstood, employed haphazardly, and often doesn’t reflect the true intent of the exercise.
Many people think that measuring PR programs is a function of sales or other customer engagements. While this is the valuable measure of any business success, PR isn’t really about sales, at least directly. To understand public relations as a discipline, it might be helpful to refer to its roots. The father of PR is generally considered to be Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, and a devoted follower of the shifting understanding of psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among Bernays’ major programs were the 50th anniversary of the light bulb for GE and a comprehensive program for Lucky Strike cigarettes in which he orchestrated the popularity of the color green, which coincidentally was the color of the Lucky Strike packaging.
Bernays understood that PR was the tip of the sales sword. If you control the opinion of the audience or customer, then the sales effort is greatly facilitated. This can all lead to sales, but sales is not the only parameter to measure results.
We believe that real measurement comes in two stages. First, understand exactly what you want to achieve. Let’s say hypothetically that a company was planning an extension of its product lines from a business-to-business customer base to a consumer one. At a very rudimentary level, some of things you would want to consider would be the awareness of this product to consumers, whether they believed they needed it and whether or not they thought this company was the right company from which to buy it. So from a PR perspective, you would want to try and introduce the product to people, demonstrate that need and demonstrate that this company was the one to supply it. But how would you measure it?
You could say sales, but those sales might not show up for some time after you had achieved the goals outlined above. One way to really understand if a PR program has moved the needle is to understand the baseline awareness and then, once you have concluded the programs, talk to the same customer base and ask them again. If you raise the awareness and raise the sense of need and raise the acceptability and brand awareness of the company in that market, then PR has done its job.
The obvious way to do that is through surveys. Most big agencies have done this kind of work, but it has traditionally been expensive and clients with more modest budgets shy away from the high costs. But now a number of online survey companies have emerged and greatly reduced this expense. Companies like SurveyMonkey, surveygizmo and QuestionPro are three of these services. They are all free services, but that plan limits the reporting you get. For a subscription fee that can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year, you can get much more of the service.
Measurement is a funny business. We have discussed a few different measurement techniques in this series of emails. PR pros and their clients and/or management need to assess which is best suited to their business and their goals. But measuring is a good thing. PR is truly more art than science, but applying appropriate measurement to a program can tip it at least somewhat in the direction of science. And that is good for everyone involved.