Comms pros, execs, and clients aren't seeing eye-to-eye on strategy and metrics

A new study from 104 West found communicators and clients have different marcomms and measurement priorities.

DENVER: PR pros aren’t on the same wavelength with executives and clients when it comes to strategy and the metrics used to measure success, according to a study released Thursday by Denver-based agency 104 West.

Forty-five percent of respondents said their biggest challenge in developing a successful campaign is that executives or clients have a different opinion about the strategy or success metrics of comms programs.

The report found communications pros are focused on engagement "by driving traffic to their websites and through social media audiences." However, executives rank these as among their lowest priorities, instead preferring earned media.

More than 500 U.S.-based comms pros across agencies and businesses of all sizes participated in the online survey.

Forty-four percent said coverage by top-tier outlets, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal get the most attention from executives, followed closely by press-heavy product launches (43%), or cover stories in national business publication such as Forbes or Fortune (39%).

However, the study found communications pros feel these tactics "don’t deliver long-term value." Changes in the media such as shrinking newsrooms have forced communicators not working for "monster" brands to look at alternative means to have "sustained conversations with customers and constituents," said 104 West CEO Patrick Ward.

"The PR pros are trying desperately to create an environment to have ongoing dialogue with the marketplace," he explained. "The media landscape is forcing sophisticated communicators to find additional channels to reach out. But there are many people who aren’t embracing that yet. Sooner or later they will have to."

Most respondents (52%) said they prioritize traffic to their website, a strategy shared by 25% of executives. There’s a similar contrast on social media or influence, on which 47% said they focus, compared with the 17% of executives who consider them a high priority.

Communications pros’ opinions on media relations also reflect the changes in the media landscape. Only 5% said it is the most effective comms tactic, and just one-quarter 25% rely heavily on it.

Metrics of success are also a point of contention between clients and communications pros. Clients and executives understand the significance of landing the cover of Forbes, Ward said, but some communicators may fall short in convincing them of the value of other channels such as social media.

"These other channels are less abstract in terms of their performance and impact on the business than media relations can be," Ward said. "It’s difficult to quantify the impact of a significant traditional media relations program. It’s very easy to quantify a program that’s driving customers to specific action."

He noted that an emphasis on content doesn’t necessarily put the PR industry on a collision course with advertising.

"Instead, the two disciplines can work hand-in-hand, since advertising is traditionally about products and services," Ward added, via email. "Communications is more often about ideas and positions that eventually result in brand awareness and ultimately product and services engagement."

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