INTERNATIONAL NEWS: Confirming PR's value to clients' bottom line

Measurement is a concept that the public relations industry has wrestled with since the days of Edward Bernays and his Engineering of Consent. Purists contend that what we do is an art and can't be quantified.

Measurement is a concept that the public relations industry has wrestled with since the days of Edward Bernays and his Engineering of Consent. Purists contend that what we do is an art and can't be quantified.

In the 1990s, when business was booming, this wasn't a problem, since we were more concerned about keeping up with the work than measuring its value. That's certainly not the case today. As the economy continues to gyrate, communications budgets have been slashed, and clients are demanding proof that business goals can be achieved through public relations. And a stack of clips just won't cut it anymore.

- Business Outcomes. Since 1998, the Council of Public Relations Firms and its Strategic Planning Committee have worked to demonstrate the value of PR as a strategic business tool, and to illustrate PR's ability to impact business outcomes. As many PR professionals have discovered, tethering PR activities to sales, reputation, or behavior change is sometimes difficult. However, as accountability and justification for budget expenditures has become increasingly important to clients and their agencies, the PR industry must continue to explore innovative measurement methodologies.

This summer, the Council is publishing its Value of Public Relations. The book summarizes existing original research that proves the value of PR, examines the business outcome measurement methodologies currently available to practitioners, and advocates the cause of increased business outcome measurement in all PR programs. The book will also highlight business-school-quality case studies, developed by research firm Wirthlin Worldwide, which demonstrate the value of PR to an organization's bottom line, not just its ability to gain impressions.

- Impact on Corporate Reputation. The Council's Strategic Planning Committee has commissioned the new research center at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School to examine the correlation between corporate communications spending and various measures of corporate reputation and brand awareness. This study is currently underway, and results will be released in early fall 2002.

- Organizational Structures. Paul Argenti of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, and Janis Forman, PhD, of UCLA's Anderson School of Business, were retained to study the best practices in organizational structures of corporate communications departments. The purpose of the study was to identify the link between corporate strategy and the positioning of a corporate communications department within the overall corporate structure.

Preliminary findings were presented at the Arthur W. Page Society spring conference, and full results will be distributed to Council members in July.

Doug Spong, founder and managing partner of Carmichael Lynch Spong, is the 2000-2002 Chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms' Strategic Planning Committee.

In addition to the research currently underway, the Council of Public Relations Firms and its Strategic Planning Committee continue to review new measurement methodologies to determine their application to the PR industry, as well as proposals to conduct original research on behalf of the Council, its members, and the industry. For more information about the Strategic Planning Committee and its programs, or to find out how your firm can join the Council of Public Relations Firms, call toll-free, 1-877-PRFIRMS (877-773-4767) or visit www. prfirms.org.

- This column is contributed and paid for by The Council of PR Firms.

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