THOUGHT LEADER: A measurement firm should be part of a company's cadre of outside PR help

Many of you have been there - a communicator afloat in a sea of engineers. It is an ongoing battle against the tide to bridge communications gaps and show the benefit of PR to leadership that doubts the value of the services you provide. Factor in the current economic storm, and PR pros need real solutions to help them stay afloat and reach their strategic destinations, especially with budgets under great scrutiny. In short, they must establish a beachhead of PR credibility in an organization dominated by a technology mindset.

Many of you have been there - a communicator afloat in a sea of engineers. It is an ongoing battle against the tide to bridge communications gaps and show the benefit of PR to leadership that doubts the value of the services you provide. Factor in the current economic storm, and PR pros need real solutions to help them stay afloat and reach their strategic destinations, especially with budgets under great scrutiny. In short, they must establish a beachhead of PR credibility in an organization dominated by a technology mindset.

After I joined tech company McDATA in October 2001, the economy was in one of the worst tailspins in history, and it was clear to our three-person PR team that senior management had to be convinced our media relations efforts contributed to the bottom line. As PR pros already know, PR can have a huge impact on a company's market perception and, in turn, its performance. But demonstrating that impact in a meaningful and consistent way to leaders whose backgrounds are predominantly in engineering and finance can be challenging to someone who measures success qualitatively, relying on results in terms of messaging, media pick-up, and, ultimately, perception management. To build a useful measurement program, the first thing you must target is a quantifiable process for demonstrating the impact of PR. We were dealing with experts in engineering and finance who were accustomed to measuring results in terms of numbers, usually represented in the form of charts and graphs. The traditional clip report, which the department was faithfully compiling from media results obtained around the world, was essentially little more than a scrapbook to them. There was no salient way to directly apply a collection of clips to bottom-line performance. What we needed was a media-results measurement tool. We went with Market360, a web-based media analytics application from Biz360. Our justification was simple: McDATA was investing in three PR pros, a US-based agency, and a European firm. It should thus take the extra step to bring aboard an objective method of seeing the impact of our work. The first major improvement was the ability to send a weekly report to senior management that graphically displayed our company's mentions over time and ad equivalency against our top four competitors. By establishing credibility with senior management, we were then able to turn our attention to improving results via three main areas. First, we looked at focusing our messaging. The PR group chooses three to four concepts each quarter to promote and associate with the company. The concepts may include a product, feature set, or a technical phrase we want to gain acceptance in the industry. The second area of concentration was new media relationships. We now have the ability to determine why some authors either ignore us or don't include us in stories that focus on our market. It is now clearer why certain messages aren't reaching the right reporters. It makes the job of pitching the right journalists much easier. The third area of focus is agency accountability. Having a quantitative handle on the success of corporate communications efforts will always help you get more out of your PR firms. We uncovered missed opportunities and were able to direct their efforts more effectively. Within the last year, we increased and altered our measurement efforts within the PR function at McDATA. In turn, our coverage has risen to the point where our mind share is on par with our biggest competitor. These advancements in measurement don't only resonate with journalists and analysts, they leave time to build and sustain media relationships, and do more long-range planning. In July, we began work on our biggest-ever product launch. Our media relations efforts played a major role in that. Without the discipline of measurement, it's very difficult to quantify results, and, in turn, PR would still struggle to be taken seriously as a marketing force. Just recently, the PR department's product launch results were a key part of a presentation made to McDATA's board of directors. It was one of the first presentations of this kind made to the board - a true testament to the value of effective, ongoing, quantitative measurement.
  • Ryan Batty is a senior PR specialist at McDATA, a tech company, specializing in hardware and software, that builds storage area networks (SANs).

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