Measuring up takes on new significance for PR industry

"Now more than ever, PR teams must demonstrate their value to senior management, and the best way to do that is through an effective measurement system," recounts PRWeek's editor-in-chief, Julia Hood in her February 24 editorial. Ms. Hood's comments were fueled by the results of the PRWeek/Biz360 Corporate Survey (also appearing in the February 24 issue). The study reported that 47% of respondents admit to having "no budget provisions for metrics." At a time when clients are rightly demanding accountability from their PR agency partners, it's very surprising to find that measurement is such a low priority for so many clients.

"Now more than ever, PR teams must demonstrate their value to senior management, and the best way to do that is through an effective measurement system," recounts PRWeek's editor-in-chief, Julia Hood in her February 24 editorial. Ms. Hood's comments were fueled by the results of the PRWeek/Biz360 Corporate Survey (also appearing in the February 24 issue). The study reported that 47% of respondents admit to having "no budget provisions for metrics." At a time when clients are rightly demanding accountability from their PR agency partners, it's very surprising to find that measurement is such a low priority for so many clients.

In the Council's Value of Public Relations book, Jerry Swerling, the University of Southern California's director of Public Relations Studies, readily admits "budget is sometimes a limiting factor in whether or not measurement is part of a program." But, he urges every PR professional to "do all you can to build it in. The astute PR practitioner will closely monitor the situation and take from it the tools that will work best ... to demonstrate the value of public relations."

Since its inception, the Council of Public Relations Firms, specifically its Strategic Planning Committee, has dedicated a considerable portion of its budget to demonstrating the value of PR as a strategic business tool, and strengthening its recognition and role in business performance, social education, and corporate strategy.

The Council has also worked with leading research organizations to develop model case studies that, at the very least, present a starting point for proving PR's ability to impact business outcomes (i.e., increasing sales and motivating employees, among others). While only a hand-ful of cases have been developed thus far, they provide a springboard for current and future educational initiatives that will surely help PR executives who work for agencies, corporations, and nonprofit organizations develop strategic, effective, and, yes, measurable communications programs.

Last month, the Council's Strategic Planning Committee released its Demonstrating the Value of Public Relations workbook, a 22-page guide to developing and executing measurable communications programs. The publication includes two of those aforementioned case studies. The foreword, which is authored by members of the Public Relations Research Center at USC's Annenberg School, summarizes research that, to date, presents the best case for the value of public relations. While no holy grail has yet been found, the Demonstrating workbook outlines five steps for planning and evaluation that will enhance the effectiveness of PR, while it builds up the body of evidence (case studies) that proves the discipline delivers a strong return on investment:

1. Design the PR program to contribute to business goals

2. Be an advocate for accountability

3. Assess the contribution of PR

4. Analyze and report results to demonstrate return on investment

5. Contribute to the body of knowledge

While the Council and its Strategic Planning Committee have gotten off to a strong start on the measurement front, there remains an enormous amount of work to do. This year, the Committee plans to follow up on the recently released Generally Accepted Practices in Public Relations Report to further evaluate the overall effectiveness of PR programs. Additionally, the Committee will examine the latest PR offering - turnaround PR - which is geared to helping businesses regroup and reposition themselves for a bright future.

Copies of Demonstrating the Value of Public Relations: A Workbook for Public Relations Executives are available for $8 by contacting the Council of PR Firms.

For information about the Council of Public Relations Firms, its members, or the Strategic Planning Committee's 2003 programs, please visit www.prfirms.org or call 877-PRFIRMS (877-773-4767).

- This column is contributed and paid for by The Council of PR Firms.

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