Measurement is more critical as a possible recession looms

Given the roller coaster ride the economy has been on for the past few months, there are understandably concerns about how a possible recession could affect the PR industry.

Given the roller coaster ride the economy has been on for the past few months, there are understandably concerns about how a possible recession could affect the PR industry. Rumors of marketing budgets being slashed, layoffs at both agencies and corporate communication departments, and hiring freezes are becoming more and more frequent. For those who have endured a downturn in the industry before, such news provides an eerie sense of dŽjˆ vu. However, there are other telltale signs of an industry slowdown that could be more subtle.

Someone once told me that the easiest way to check if the PR industry is headed toward a recession is to see if research and measurement budgets are being cut, as they are usually deemed the easiest places to eliminate costs for clients and agencies looking to save money. While this may seem like a tempting, short-term solution to a problem, it's probably the most misguided, and one that could ultimately hurt all parties involved in the long run.

By now, the value of measurement is something that is accepted - at least in theory - by nearly every PR pro. As the PR industry continues in its fight to grab a bigger piece of the marketing pie, being able to prove its effectiveness - especially as it relates to other marketing disciplines - is crucial. More than two years later, the industry is still basking in the glow of Procter & Gamble's announcement that its proprietary measurement system showed a greater ROI for PR than other marketing disciplines. And while the debate continues within the measurement community as to the best way to conduct measurement - outputs versus outcomes, whether ad value equivalence is valid, or if marketing mix modeling is a realistic choice for most companies - the fact remains that some form of measurement is preferable to none at all.

Not only does having such a system in place help evaluate the effectiveness of a particular campaign or project, but it can also determine which tactics and messages resonated most so that it can guide future work and spending on behalf of a client.

And while measurement should always be a key part of any campaign, its importance is probably even greater during a time when the economy is causing concern among marketers. For those clients who may be considering cutting their PR agency budgets, a measurement system that can show that the money spent on PR is providing an impressive ROI could perhaps persuade them to do otherwise. That argument also holds true for smaller, in-house departments.

In fact, for those agencies and companies that haven't fully embraced measurement yet, this is probably the best time to do it. Certainly it may not be the foremost thing on the minds of agency executives and in-house communicators as they face the possibility of budget cuts. But the need to prove the value of PR has never been more critical. While it may involve a bit of an investment during a time when it may not be easy, the returns it can provide over time will be immeasurable.

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