Step out of your ivory towers and measure your impact

PR professionals in the tech sector need to justify their work, especially in an economic downturn, says James Harrison.

Harrison: Harrison Moscow Communications
Harrison: Harrison Moscow Communications

With the much-hyped credit crunch starting to take effect, it continues to baffle me that PR folk still want to be measured against vague intangibles such as 'brand awareness'.

In today's increasingly desperate economic climate, there is greater emphasis for all business departments - whether in IT, telecoms, mobile or software - to justify their budgets. This is even more important for tech and digital PR. If we don't, we will almost certainly see our budgets slashed or cut altogether, as is customary during a recession.

For sales departments in the tech sector, this is a fairly straightforward process. How much are we spending on salaries? What are our expenses, when measured against how much money is made? However, for PR departments this is far harder to measure - but it's certainly not impossible.

As a business overhead, the PR function must start to link its performance directly into the bottom line. We must be able to demonstrate to the rest of the company that our activities and results can show a clear return on investment.

However, working in isolation in their 'brand-building' ivory towers, PROs will never achieve this.

We already have a near-impossible job of measuring ourselves against the bottom line. We are seen to generate leads, but not to close deals. We need to work much more closely with other areas of the business in order to prove our worth.

The most critical relationship here is with the sales teams, providing them with messages, language and even collateral. This needs to be supported by coverage that we generate in tech sector publications.

We should also be driving enquiries to the business or traffic to the website - or else we are simply not doing our jobs.

I am not, of course, advocating that PROs change their roles and become sales people. But this dual role is where tech PR is evolving.

There is still a stigma attached to PR - sales teams are constantly questioning its value or seriousness.

What is clear is that PR can no longer work in isolation from the rest of the business. Especially in turbulent times when revenues might be down, we need to talk to in-house sales people to identify where they need help.

Tech PR is often said to be recession-proof, but this is only if we can justify our budgets by showing a clear impact on the bottom line.

James Harrison is co-founder of tech agency Harrison Moscow Communications.

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