What is the value of public relations?

It’s a question we often address as we build PR strategies for clients.

The better question, however, is, “how does public relations contribute to my organization’s overall business success?”

This growing appetite from clients to prove the business impact of PR is one of the biggest reasons why now is such an interesting time to be in our industry.

Earned media is often overlooked in calculations of sales attribution or marketing effectiveness. Why? Because most communicators don’t realize it’s up to them to produce the data that proves the impact of their work.  In the absence of earned media data, other measurable things – such as GRPs or clicks – are receiving disproportionate credit for marketing effectiveness.  

Here’s the good news. We’ve never been better equipped to produce the data needed to clearly demonstrate the impact of PR on a company’s business results. We simply need to re-examine the tools and talent that communication departments use to manage and merchandise earned media data.

Tools: We have better ways to tell the category story

Major technological advancements have made earned media data more affordable than ever. Big data systems have connected datasets that were once siloed. Cloud computing has enabled cheaper storage and faster processing, while artificial intelligence and machine learning are working together to deliver more accurate conversation interpretation than ever before. 

Acquisitions on the platform side (e.g. Trendkite by Cision, and Sysomos by Meltwater) have brought about sleek and powerful products that are increasingly easy to use. And many communicators are already subscribing to platforms like Cision that have far more capabilities than they realize. 

Useful data and new contexts are likely within your budget. Start asking questions about how you’re packaging earned media data to tell larger stories. Then think about how you can integrate new narratives into monitoring or reporting workflows that bring communications results to life.

These tech advancements make it more affordable than ever to expand earned media data capture beyond isolated campaigns to a brand’s entire category, competitors and all. These new capabilities allow data-literate communicators to calculate new metrics (e.g. share of voice, lift on share) that are easier for other marketing colleagues to understand, embrace, and integrate with data from the broader organization.

Talent: We must champion communications data literacy

We’ve noticed that even organizations with the latest technology struggle to use it in ways that tap the full value of their platform investments. One explanation for this might be the data talent gap that has left many industries short of the analysts they need to transform raw information into a story. Platforms need partners on the user-side to make their technology really sing. Likewise, communications departments need the right talent to build out datasets while maintaining existing workflows that fuel what’s already working.

We see it every day: data from earned media is absent from many effectiveness studies because it’s simply not available in a clean and workable format. Communications departments need to maintain datasets for departments that are already measuring effectiveness for the rest of the organization, such as sales, customer experience, brand or marketing. We know that earned media coverage affects traditional metrics like net promoter scores (NPS) or brand affinity – we just need to connect the dots to them.

Consider how data skills are acknowledged in your communications operation today. The industry will soon pass the point of needing a “nerd on every team;” you’ll soon need “a team of nerds.” Whether in-house or with your agency, improved data literacy among your communicators is necessary to bridge the PR/marketing gap.

Let’s step up our data game

It’s time to cancel the longstanding myth that communications can’t be measured. Communications data is now more affordable to collect, store and process. Big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning are coming together to make it happen. The question is whether the industry can develop and mobilize the talent to do the job.

The age of PR as a driver of business impacts is upon us now. If you’re wondering where you can get started, give us a call.

Kyle Brown is a Vice President on the insights team at Weber Shandwick Canada.

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