If truth be told, credibility has long been an issue in our world. Not just with regard to the external perception of the PR industry – cue the long lunch and promo-girl stereotypes – but even among the very teams and businesses for which we work.
How can this be when time and again we achieve world-class and award-winning results through earned media, perfectly supplementing the paid-for contribution? When briefs are met and opportunities delivered, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears expelled? All too often, we’re served a brief and left to get on with it. But what if PR isn’t the right medium for the campaign in the first place?
There, I’ve said it.
What if we’re missing a trick earlier on in the campaign process? What if we’re too busy justifying our efforts that we’re forgetting to apply smart thinking in the first place? Let me explain. It strikes me that, rather than struggling to measure PR impact after the event, we should be ensuring that the campaigns we plan are precisely what our audience wants.
To put it another way, if a marketing function won’t consider moving to the planning stage of a project without exploring the business imperative and customer appetite, then why do we?
With our increasingly exposing social world and changing media landscape, we can no longer simply rely on the brief from the business to devise a suitable response. I’m afraid a superior knowledge of press handling coupled with gut feel just doesn’t cut it anymore.
According to research firm Gartner, ‘business intelligence’ (BI) is "an umbrella term that includes the applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimise decisions and performance". Now tell me why that cannot be applied to PR?
I’m talking about real, rich data that asks what and why. What is making the news agenda and why? Who is trawling which social media sites at what time and what are they looking for? What type of engagement is attracting attention and what is slipping through the net? All questions that any creative PR brainstorm should start with, surely? This is best demonstrated by the PR agency world – where insight divisions are being born to inform and steer – but far less so in-house.
There are many benefits to PR BI: the improvement in the ability to measure success metrics against data derived at planning stage and the potential to better tailor creative execution.
Another – and this is where PR can truly add value – is in determining whether or not our audience want to hear about the story in the first place. Audience insight that determines comms appetite will help the whole industry prioritise.
So whether you choose to brief an existing marketing BI function, enlist the services of a data consultancy or build your own team, the need is there and the challenge is real.
Smart PR will improve our ability to counsel, prioritise and prove success and that is an investment worth making.
Nicola Green is director of comms and reputation at O2