Queen Elizabeth described 1992 as her “annus horribilis”. Put politely it had been a miserable year for the royals. For many in the financial world 2008 has been their annus horribilis. The collapse of major banks and the credit crunch have driven the world into a recession that is likely to last through most if not all of 2009. This leaves the PR industry with a challenge as it prepares for 2009. At this point most agencies I’ve talked to have seen little real impact on their current budgets. What is less clear is what will happen in ’09. In the next few weeks, clients with calendar financial years will be setting new budgets. Some will inevitably cut their spend, while others will look at ways of consolidating what they do spend with fewer agencies in a bid to gain some economies of scale. Indeed I think this will be a tough period for the small independent agency that derives more than 30% of its revenues from larger companies. In tough times there is a flight to the apparent safety of a larger agency and ironically a belief that the large agency can save them money by offering a more holistic set of services. I say ironically because smaller agencies typically have lower cost structures and big agencies don’t typically do a good job of integrating, so these savings are often mythical.
What I would urge agencies to do, if they haven’t already, is to provide their clients with reasons why PR budgets should be protected during a downturn. If you simply scour the web you will find work such as that done by P&G to measure PR against other disciplines. This work clearly shows the value of PR and why there is a strong link between the sales and brand value of a business AND the PR the company does. I guess my point here is that if we don’t proactively arm our clients with data that really does show why PR should continue to be a priority for businesses facing a downturn then we shouldn’t complain when the budget gets axed.
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.