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It’s not what we do, it’s whether it works

1 Jun

Measure what matters Book review: Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement and Key Relationships by Katie Delahaye Paine. Wiley.

Let's start with one of the author's anecdotes from her own practice experience.

"I spent millions of dollars each year writing, designing, and producing pieces of paper that were supposed to make my sales force more effective," she writes. "Whether it ever worked was never questioned, it was what we did."

She's right. The emphasis in public relations practice has traditionally been on what we do, not on whether it works.

This is true of public relations practice. What doesn't or shouldn't change are the principles behind the practice. Now for another quotation from the author:

"The future of public relations lies in the development of relationships, and the future of measurement lies in the accurate analysis of those relationships. Counting impressions will become increasingly irrelevant while measuring relationships and reputation will become ever more important" (p 219).

This quotation is from the conclusion to the same author's 2007 book, Measuring Public Relationships. She cites it again in this new text to point out that what was true then remains true now. Four years ago is not a long time, of course, unless you live in Twitter time.

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The big question: are we worth it?

8 Oct

At the start of an undergraduate course, we pose a straightforward question: what is PR?

With more advanced students, we progress to what is the purpose of PR? These discussions can often become rather abstract and idealistic.

Now, there is a more pressing big question facing all in the business: how can we prove the value of PR?

There has been a deep recession; many European countries are facing painful cuts in public spending. Political rhetoric in the UK equates PR jobs with waste and propaganda.

So this is a time for industry leaders to defend PR by making a clear statement of the value it provides to organisations and society. It's a discussion that goes well beyond debates about evaluation and goes to the heart of organisational purpose and sustainability.

Are we worth it? Can we identify the universal value delivered by the public relations function?

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Measuring social media engagement

27 Jul

A new report by former Forrester analyst and Groundswell co-author Charlene Li has evaluated the social media engagement of the world's most valuable brands – and Starbucks comes out on top.

"While much has been written questioning the value of social media, this landmark study has found that the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social media engagement. The relationship is apparent and significant: socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful."

Engagement profiles This claim has always been made for marketing and public relations, of course. Those companies that listen to their customers and are more responsive to their markets or environments should perform better. But there are some new dimensions to social media:

  • The proliferation of media channels poses a problem. Not all top companies choose to manage their relationships across multiple channels.
  • Media and technology companies have a headstart when it comes to social media. This finding is consistent with the list of brands used to support the authors' case in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. But where is Apple? Answer, 'selective' in its use of social media.
  • The four categories of engagement are 1) mavens – highly engaged in multiple channels; 2) butterflies – they are widely involved but less engaged; 3) selectives – fewer channels, but highly engaged where they choose to be; 4) wallflowers – fewer channels and less engagement.

There's one more thing not addressed by the authors. When you look at the top five brands (Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google, Microsoft) I'd suggest there's another dimension to be considered. They are all 'yo-yo' companies that evoke strong 'love-hate' responses (sometimes even simultaneously). Take Starbucks: the Seattle business with an exemplary approach to community and corporate responsibility is for some one of the more visible examples of rapacious globalisation and anti-competitive practices. Similar contradictions can be noted about Dell and Microsoft, and even eBay and Google have experienced growing pains and the difficulty of living up to youthful idealism ('don't be evil').

So is prominence another factor? On the grounds that 'he who lives by the sword dies by the sword', some prominent brands have chosen a high-profile leadership position and have little option but to engage with the public (including their critics) in all available forums. Others that have adopted a more cautious 'business to business' approach have the option to be more selective (though this exemption does not apply to Apple – ever the maverick.)

Please take this survey

4 Mar

Another dissertation student is studying the metrics of online evaluation. Please help her by taking this short survey.

If you can’t measure it…

8 Jun

There’s a bewildering statement in Paul Noble and Tom Watson’s otherwise sound book on Evaluating Public Relations. They state that ‘the monitoring of online public relations is one of the black holes in the evaluation lexicon’.

If they mean that it’s murky and unclear, then they may have a point. If they mean it’s pure guesswork, then they’re simply wrong. Here’s an excellent discussion of blog measurement metrics from Stephen Davies. (He’s spurred me to start exploring Feedburner; and has indeed added some words to my lexicon.) And here’s a more holistic view of blogging benefits from Kami Huyse.

UPDATE: Here’s proof that it’s still a murky business. A new blogger confesses she’s even more confused than me by all these new tools.

Thinking and doing

7 Jun

Why is there such a pronounced gap between theory and practice? At one extreme are many practitioners who ‘just do it’; at the other are the academics whose theories may never be put into practice.

It’s rare for UK texts on public relations to embrace both aspects (it’s been a common feature of US texts for decades). Evaluating Public Relations by Tom Watson and Paul Noble is an exception.  Its early chapters review the literature on the meaning and purpose of public relations and the principles of communication psychology. Its later chapters are a ‘how to’ guide to doing research, setting objectives and measuring outcomes.

Yet many readers of this blog will share my surprise at this statement: ‘The monitoring of online public relations is one of the ‘black holes’ in the evaluation lexicon’. It’s surprising since there are many more metrics available online than have ever been previously available to the practitioner. Take the example of Jakob Nielsen’s tenth anniversary Alertbox. Not only does he know which of his articles have had the most readers, but he’s able to monitor the impact of his advice on standards of web design and usability. You couldn’t do anything similar offline, quickly and affordably.

By meeting the needs of educators and practitioners, this book has wide appeal. Perhaps it works because the authors have strong credentials in both camps. Tom Watson was a prominent PR consultant in Britain and is now a senior academic in his home country (Australia). My one-time colleague Paul Noble is simultaneously a lecturer, trainer, writer and consultant.

Making the case

17 Jun

A comment on this previous post has challenged me to say something on the measurement of PR.

It’s a difficult, but important, area. In a management culture that believes ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’, public relations practitioners have to learn the language.

It seems we’re now replacing talk of return on investment (ROI) with the concept of ‘evidence-based PR’, as outlined in a research study available in PDF format from this page on the IPR website.