Economists seem to agree that by and large the major economies of the world are no longer in recession. But it’s clear that while some industries are back to growth, others are still mired in there very own recession. So, is the PR industry one of the growth industries or is it still in recession? The answer is potentially ‘yes’ to both of these questions. I’d argue that the PR industry has emerged from the recession as a different business. It’s had to.
Pre recession, the PR industry was drifting towards digital and in particular social media/networks. The recession accelerated PR down that path in ways that will change the industry forever. Put another way the deliverables that clients rightly expect post recession are different. Very different. Post recession clients expect to understand communities and the conversations taking place in those communities. They also want to take part in these conversations, or at the very least influence them. They may also want to create their own communities. This is real ‘public relations’ and it’s a huge opportunity for the industry. Yet some agencies still view the world the old way. They view PR as a process that drivcs headlines and creates events. They think that a blog entry is effectively another headline. In other words they are not measuring communities and conversations, they are measuring the volume a client can talk at. These agencies are going to have to adapt and fast, or their recession will last a long time. A very long time.
The agencies that are embracing a new way of measuring success are coming out of this recession with a great opportunity. They are speaking the new language of marketing and delivering services to match. They are not confined by what media or events exist. Instead they create and influence communities and the conversations that are taking place using the best available tools. Truth is the agencies that are on this path don’t really think of themselves as PR agencies anymore and they certainly don’t fear agencies that still deliver ‘old style PR.’ This is because the approaches they are taking require skills from a wider range of disciplines. It’s also because they don’t measure success like they used to.
So, if you want to know if your agency is still in recession, ask yourself how you define success for a client. The answer to that will tell you a lot about your prospects for the next few years.
I’ve been digging around for articles on measurement in PR as I still believe it is an area that needs greater attention. In so doing I came across a paper by Chris Cartwright, MD of Harvard in the UK who carried out a survey on the subject. The paper is pretty good and certainly worth a quick read, though I should warn you it’s even drier than this blog. The one thing that really caught my eye was the opening statement: “While 7 out of 10 PR practitioners agree that PR evaluation is an important part of their role…” I had to read this several times because I was stunned. What this says is that 30% or nearly one in three DON’T think measurement is important. Again I’m truly amazed by this. I can understand some people may not want to be measured because they’re not doing a good job but to check a survey box that that says you don’t think it is important perhaps explains why measurement is still so low on the agenda. I’d love the various PR institutions to take this subject on. I’d love the major brands to make it a top priority. But it would seem that until the three people out of every ten that don’t see measurement as important are persuaded to think again then not much will happen.
Here’s the link to Chris’s article: http://www.chime.plc.uk/downloads/PR-Evaluation-Survey-Chris-Cartwright-Harvard-Nov07.pdf
One thing is clear to me right now; measurement has failed to get on the PR agenda. Just read the main stories in the PR trades. Not one of them talks about measurement. Sure it shows up on RFPs, sure clients want to talk about how well things are going and they even want charts showing what a great job is being done for the money. But the sad truth is that PR measurement still doesn’t command a meaningful part of most company’s budgets. Some simple, albeit unscientific, research reveals that out of the five clients I asked not one does measurement in the same way (actually not all bother to measure). Furthermore none of those that do measure have a well defined budget for measurement when planning programs.
A broader look at measurement shows that many people do use firms like Biz360 or Carma but even then from what I can tell the PR staff tend to pay little or no attention to the results these services provide unless of course they think it will help with some internal presentation to justify the funding of the department. We shouldn’t blame our clients for the sorry state of affairs here. After all, how much effort do most agencies put in to being measured? We are the ones who make moey from doing PR so we are the ones who should make sure our clients use tools to make sure that what we do is actually worth the money.
My own view on this is that we need an industry standard form of measurement in the way the ad industry has. This means we need to know what we are to measure, how often we measure it etc. We also need to start to establish an agreed way to invest in measurement. This could be either a certain percentage of fees applied, or a minimum expenditure. I for one would love to see such measurement be carried out in such a way that work done in PR could measured alongside work done in other areas of marketing so that we can finally start to see just how PR stacks up against other forms of marketing.
The current thinking on measurement seems to be to let everyone just do their own thing. Let’s face it this isn’t working. Now I know some PR people don’t want measurement because: a) they’ll have to do some work for the fees they charge otherwise they’ll be found out; b) funds applied to measurement will likely be taken out of the money they would otherwise have been given to run programs, host lunches etc.; and c) they argue that PR is to hard to measure accurately anyway, so why bother? My response to these people is if we don’t adopt measurement then we can expect PR to lag disciplines like advertising for many years to come.