Life beyond the clip book

Measuring business outcomes is far easier than most companies think.

Measuring business outcomes is far easier than most companies think.

Miller Brewing Co., the world's second-largest beer-maker, spends an enormous amount of money each year, and uses a broad array of marketing means to tie its brands to everything from major sporting events to the image of a pair of sultry women ripping off each other's clothes and wrestling in a fountain. Somewhere in that vast sum is a comparatively small chunk of money that pays for Miller's PR efforts. The purpose of these efforts, unfolding as they do within a corporate marketing effort known for creative advertisements from the famous "tastes great, less filling" debate to the infamous "catfight" spots, would seem to be a bit nebulous, even to a marketing-savvy observer. The war for beer market-share supremacy, after all, is fought in supermarket displays and television advertising, not in the news media. Yet if that observer were to ask Scott Bussen, Miller's director of marketing communications, what PR means to brands like Miller Lite or Miller Genuine Draft, Bussen could take out a set of charts and show just how media relations and other PR functions have impacted sales of Miller products in particular times and places. Bussen could also say, with a confidence that only hard data provides, that these public relations efforts represented a better use of the company's money than other marketing tools. And he could say it in a way that makes sense to someone outside the world of PR, someone for whom there is no self-evident correlation between media coverage and the bottom line. "Public relations has been more effective and more cost-effective than either television advertising or retail point-of-sale activity, which are the other two big programs that were measured," Bussen says. "It supported what we all instinctively knew about public relations, but we did it in a way that a lot of marketing clients found more credible because it was on their terms." Seeing how PR stacks up This recent analysis, undertaken by Miller's research group and Delahaye, marks the latest evolution in how the company measures its public relations success, which seven years ago, when Bussen joined, was concerned with counting clips and monitoring media impressions. Put in measurement jargon, this evolution shifts the emphasis from merely measuring outputs, or traditional measures like media impressions, to measuring real business outcomes, such as sales, market share, membership, or subscriptions. Miller, to be sure, has not been alone in making the move from outputs to outcomes, but it's not exactly at the front of what you'd call a stampede. The PRWeek/Biz360 Corporate Survey earlier this year demonstrated that evaluating press clippings for quality and quantity was by far the most popular form of measurement. But Biz360 marketing director You Mon Tsang reports that when the software company launched less than three years ago, between 1% and 5% of clients were interested in measuring outcomes. That number, he says, is now somewhere between 20% and 25%. "It's an evolution in thinking. It's natural to have outcomes getting more sophisticated over time. It's an indication of the maturation of media measurement." This maturation has undoubtedly been made possible by technological improvements that allow researchers to grab vast amounts of disparate types of data, and then show how the data types relate. But if technology were the only factor that determines how PR professionals evaluate their work (and, by extension, their place in the corporate world), then every decent-sized company would have a robust understanding of what their work contributed to the bottom line. And that's far from the case, even though this kind of information is increasingly being demanded by the C-suite executives in charge of a company's coffers. "It usually comes down to time and money," says Mark Weiner, CEO of Delahaye. "There's a cost for doing this stuff. People don't argue about whether it's the right thing to do. They argue over whether it's a reasonable thing to do within a budget. The inability to measure outcomes can come as a result of not having the budget to do it. It could come as a result of not having information available to do it because you're going across public relations into other marketing disciplines to do it." The cost debate Budget compromise is often necessary when it comes to deciding how to measure. "Cost is a concern that all organizations have to think about, and does stop them from doing full-bore measurement at the back end," says Lisa Richter, SVP and director of Fleishman-Hillard's Knowledge Solutions. "But there can be, even with a smaller budget, data collected to give a directional sense that there is something happening on the back end in terms of business outcomes." Katie Delahaye Paine, president of KD Paine & Partners, disagrees with the notion that cost is a major factor, especially since organizations often already possess the secondary information necessary to measure outcomes. While she acknowledges that correlating this data is anything but a perfect science, she suggests there's an additional possible reason for not carrying measurement beyond tracking outputs. "The motivation is fear - absolute terror of what happens if I'm putting all this effort into stuff and nothing is really happening," she says. "Part of it is the insecurity people feel in putting real numbers to this stuff." According to Bussen, Miller's marketing-mix analysis didn't come with a huge additional price tag because the company was able to offset the increase in cost by narrowing its view. The company now gets information on fewer markets, but that information is much more detailed and much more useful around budget time. "We already have a pretty good relationship with the marketing department, but as happens with any public relations group, you're always struggling to get funding to really make an impact," Bussen says. "What this has done is open some people's eyes in terms of how we've taken seriously the need to measure what we do. They're used to having to measure everything else that they do, and there's been some feeling over the years that they don't want to spend as much money on PR because they're going to come back to me and tell me it's been successful on a pile of clips. Now all of a sudden we're working hard to find ways to effectively measure what we do, and that's helped us be taken more seriously." ----- The case for outputs Angela Jeffrey, VP, PRtrak/SDI As communicators, we develop and implement campaigns designed to achieve business outcomes through strategic and tactical outputs such as media coverage. Too often we've lost sight of the business goals our outputs were designed to generate - such as improved awareness, preference, or sales - and incorrectly lauded our great coverage as evidence of success. But that's hardly a reason to stop measuring outputs. Without measuring, we have no way of knowing how much our work has stimulated a given business response. If our goal is to increase store traffic via a communications effort, and the media doesn't cover our campaign, but we achieve a sales increase anyway, have we achieved our objective? Of course not. The argument is now moot. With new research by SDI, we now see a clear link between increased editorial coverage and business outcomes through a key PR output measure: share of discussion (SoD). Changes in SoD have correlated at very high levels with changes in outcomes such as product sales. We've always known intuitively that this link exists, but it's nice to finally see hard evidence. SoD is measured using ad value, impressions, or story counts. Amazingly, the old ad-value metric (now called "media value") correlates best, since it captures relative credibility of source as well as size/length and prominence of a story. Bottom line? Measure both outputs and outcomes, so you'll know what's working and what's not. As communicators, outputs are our only tools to affect outcomes. Let's get them right! ----- The case for outcomes Katie Delahaye Paine, president, KD Paine & Partners Sure, outputs are seductive. They're fast and easy. You get immediate gratification from pointing to a pile of clips, and you can get a gold star for that front-page article. And what could be easier that having the intern count clips and enter the tallies into a spreadsheet? The problem is that at the end of the day, what do you know that will help you make better business decisions? Do you know if that tactic was effective in boosting understanding? Do you know if more people will desire your product? No. All you know is that X number of journalists picked up your story. The reality is that it is just as easy to measure outcomes as outputs. If you want to see if your announcement drove anyone to action, how about using your website traffic reports to check how many people accessed the press release? If you arrange an event and all you count is the number of attendees, you know how many shrimp it took to feed them, but you have no idea whether they got your key message. But for little money you can send them an e-mail survey to find out if the event improved your relationship. So why the reluctance to measure outcomes? Fear. And I ask you: What's the worst that can happen? You find out that blanketing the world with your press releases doesn't have any outcome. Is that such a bad thing?

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