A GOOD public relations programme starts with the question: who are our stakeholders? Answering this properly can have a dramatic effect on how focused a PR campaign becomes. It should also affect how a PR programme is evaluated.
One PR agency boss told me that he was really proud of the work he’d done for several clients, adding tens of thousands of followers to their Twitter accounts. He’d charged them a hefty whack but then spent a few hundred dollars on a site where you can buy social followers. The result was apparently delighted clients – they hadn’t noticed that their new followers had either lacked profile pics or had ones that looked like manga characters. Of course, none of these new followers were stakeholders, so the effort was entirely pointless.
In media relations, it is easy to get large amounts of coverage, if you’re shameless. But professionals focus on getting coverage that’s on-topic, is favourable and reaches relevant stakeholders. If a media team evaluates itself by numbers of press hits, the danger is that it will seek lots of easy-to-get mentions that aren’t actually being read by the right people.
I am told that, in one large organisation, a newly appointed head of the press office changed press cuttings service and – deliberately or not – at the same time changed the criteria so that 100% of cuttings came through the service. In fact, many organisations getting high volumes of coverage will set complex criteria for whether they get the cutting, because having a hundreds of PDFs of the same basic story from hundreds of local newspapers is costly. Anyway, because this press officer leader apparently took credit for the hike in cuttings (and increase in advertising value equivalency), she got a wonderful reputation with the CEO and the director of comms as a miracle worker who had increased their coverage – even though other colleagues knew she had simply changed how the figures were calculated.
Good PR practitioners, conversely, know that the volume of coverage alone doesn’t indicate success. Professionals, for example, pre-rank media outlets by their ability to reach genuine stakeholders. Not all coverage an organisation receives should count as meaningfully contributing towards its strategic goals.