There’s a whole industry of people out there who try to claim that PR, in the business world, is about anything but sales. They say it’s about reputation, about creating buzz, about stakeholder engagement or about getting a thick bundle of press cuttings. Those are all things that PR people work on, but they aren’t the end purpose, which is always to increase sales.
When a PR campaign enables more sales to occur, the client paying for it is delighted. When a PR agency squirms and wiggles and pretends that it’s not their job to help sales, but simply to get press coverage, the client wonders: what’s the point?
For many PR agencies, the problem is that they do increase their clients’ sales, but they can’t prove it. And that’s why measuring the effectiveness of PR is so important. Some PR practitioners tell me that measurement is “boring” and an “unnecessary overhead”. I’ve seen even big agencies refuse to do any form of meaningful measurement on the grounds that the budget was too small. They’re wrong: proper measurement is actually a necessary part of keeping clients happy – and retaining them.
By proper measurement, I don’t mean the Advertising Value Equivalency, which is much hated by clients. The AVE pretends to calculate what the column inches would have cost to buy as advertising. Ludicrously, it always assumes that the client paid the listed price for the advert (which no one does). It is particularly problematic because an advert says exactly what you want it to say, whereas editorial does not. That doesn’t stop users of AVEs then multiplying the figure by a made-up number on the grounds that editorial coverage is more convincing than advertising. For business-to-business and SME clients who many not be great fans of advertising anyway, its use is utterly irrelevant.
Good measurements can be as simple as asking new customers: “How did you hear of us?”. Not 100% accurate, I’ll grant you, but should give you an indication. Some PR agencies poll their clients’ potential buyers on their awareness and favourability towards the brand before and after a campaign. That gives some clue of whether the PR is working. Big companies, such as Procter & Gamble and the Miller Brewing Company, have used complicated Marketing Mix Modelling to extract the effectiveness of different types of marketing – including PR – on sales. That sort of modelling doesn’t come cheap, they clearly find it useful.
Of course, there are pros and cons of all those methods. For traditional media it is vital that PR agencies get coverage which clients want to share with their prospective and current customers. For example, a glowing product review in a magazine can be licensed as a PDF and sent to everyone who enquires. An article in a major newspaper that quotes the CEO can be sent to current customers to remind them of the firm’s industry leadership. After all, if sales and marketing teams aren’t making full use of coverage, are they really getting the best value for their PR money?
For online coverage, the measurement gets a lot simpler. It’s possible to track where web visitors come from. Agencies can create dedicated web pages for particular PR campaigns, perhaps offering money-off vouchers or white papers, in exchange for an email address. That allows easily measurement of sales – whether you’re selling in shops or directly.
Businesses large and small are increasingly concerned about measuring the effectiveness of their marketing expenditure. In the future, only the agencies which can prove their worth will thrive.