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How do you define the value of PR? (Spin Sucks Article)

This article originally ran on Spin Sucks and was written by Whitney Danhauer.

This week’s edition of the Spin Sucks Question on the value of PR comes to us from Joe Thornley.

Joe is a good friend of both Martin Waxman’s (our snazzy new chief marketing officer) and Gini Dietrich’s (our shallow figurehead).

And he was kind enough to throw out a question for us to ask.

Joe owns Thornley Fallis Communications and is one of the co-hosts of the podcast Inside PR.

(If you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, I highly suggest you do. It’s good stuff!)

PR can be a bit difficult to measure when it comes to value.

In an industry that is constantly changing certainly doesn’t help the matter.

Our lovely Spin Sucks Community never fails when it comes to our weekly question and this week was no exception.

On Monday, I asked:

With fewer media to pitch, and the impact of social and digital content, how would you define the value of PR?

Here are some of your responses.

The Importance of Strategy

Iva Grigorova thinks strategy is most important when measuring PR.

The role of PR is more strategic now. Being able to consult and strategically advise clients on how to position their brand/company brings value and purpose to our work.

Measuring the Value of PR By the Outcomes

Christopher S. Penn believes awareness and affinity are what really matter.

The value of PR is the outcomes it generates: awareness and affinity. Are more people aware of who you are and what you do? Has brand affinity, intent to purchase, intent to refer increased? If your metrics around PR aren’t digging into awareness and affinity, then you’re not valuing PR well. Focusing on awareness and affinity also means your valuation and reporting is more flexible. There’s less traditional, one-way media today, but far more overall ways to be seen and heard.

Joy Welborn thinks the value of PR is measured in whether or not your audience takes the action you intended with your message.

PR is valuable if it gets a target audience to take a desired action.  In a distracted, media-saturated world, the value of PR is website traffic, conversions, and ultimately, sales.

This is controversial because PR professionals have gotten used to skating by on terms like “brand awareness” and “buzz”.  The pushback coming from PR teams is understandable- no one goes into communications because they like playing around in data! Also interesting to note is that this emphasis on PR measurement comes at a time when journalists are leaving for more stable, well-paying professions and popular figures are decrying media biases.

As journalists and publications begin to lean into the business impact an article can have on the company mentioned, I think media will become a more monetized industry.  In a few years, it won’t be inconceivable that journalists receive some form of commission or compensation for the successful articles they write.

Not as Simple as it Sounds

Mary Getz had a couple of separate thoughts on the subject.

My first two reactions question the premise of the question.

Public Relations actually encompasses WAY more than media relations. It’s about connecting, informing, and influencing key audiences and media relations is just one way to do that.

My second answer would be—are there really fewer media to pitch?  There is a proliferation of narrowly targeted outlets. So the trick may be finding the right outlet rather than the largest outlet.

Revisiting the Definition of PR

Shane Carpenter realized there was more than meets the eye to the question at hand.

This seems like such a simple question on the surface but I think it’s more complex. I agree with what everybody has said previously so I am going to take a different path and kind of play devil’s advocate.

To start with I would argue that we need to revisit the definition of what the media is in the 21st century. PR is complicated because nobody can agree on its definition. And if we can’t do that, how do we determine its value?

What I would call traditional PR, is interested in building relationships with media, audiences and influencers to create awareness and affinity which can be hard to measure. All the PR in the world isn’t going to save a bad product or overcome poor customer service experiences. So how do we separate PR’s impact to other business factors when it comes to measurement?  And if we can’t do that, how do we show value?

More modern PR approaches are stealing concepts from marketing. There is a reason why this is happening. We can measure and show how our efforts impacted a specific measurable goal. For most organizations, this is what they have the most interest in. Which means, ultimately, the client and their goals determine the value.

Not-So-Traditional Limits and Storytelling

The lack of traditional limits in public relations help with measuring the value of PR, according to Tori Hebert.

I think part of the value is knowing that you are not limited by the traditional avenues any longer. For example, we still send out news (or as my people still say press) releases. But, we’ve also started sending content through our newsletter and social media channels as a way to inform. Sometimes what we include isn’t big enough to have a full release. But we still want people to know about it.

Mary Barber believes our ability to tell a story, among other things, helps increase the value of PR.

The value of public relations goes well beyond media relations, which remains extremely valuable. It’s in our ability to provide strategic advice to organizations that help them tell their stories, and gain better perception by their communities. One just needs to look at areas like investor relations, community relations, advocacy, internal/employee comm, development, events and content creation to see how much more there is to our profession and the value it offers to companies.

Fake News and Data

With the increase in inaccurate news being shared across social media platforms, Greg Brooks thinks the value of PR has never been more important.

PR—real PR, not tending a client’s insta feed—has never been more valuable. This is because our work has always been about building and maintaining trust. And we now live in a world where trust—in media, in our public institutions, in each other—is empirically declining.

Kurt Uhlir looked at it from the data-driven side of things.

The five best ways to measure the value of PR today from the data side are: Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE), Impressions, Referral Tracking, Conversion Tracking, and the number of backlinks generated.