A sea change has taken place in communications over the strategies and tactics of PR that fall into the digital realm.
The industry has not only embraced things like social networking and online video, but it also is staking a claim in its future through client and agency investment, thought leadership, and wholesale shifts of campaign emphasis.
But PR will only be able to take this trend so far if it, as a whole, continues to neglect the imperative to build measurement into every endeavor - meaningful metrics that relate to solid business objectives. Because the fundamental differentiator of online is its increasingly sophisticated "trackability" - the basic ability to demonstrate in hard numbers how many people viewed, registered, or took action - there is no hiding from the demands of the medium.
Another major shift is taking place now, one that has implications far beyond PR, but has an impact on it nonetheless - that less attention is being spent on branding and more is being spent on developing substantive business opportunities online. It is not always enough to do something cute on YouTube, even if it is viewed by thousands of people. Increasingly, marketers want to see how these executions track back to solid leads or sales. And they want it in real time.
Enter the communications strategists, who are often accustomed to using "traditional" metrics (think impressions), or maybe conducting retroactive research on a campaign's impact that might have an effect on next year's approach. That is, if they measure at all.
Yes, there are exceptions to this, and hopefully the measurement message is continuing to penetrate. Investment by companies like Siemens and Procter & Gamble into PR metrics, as well as the thought leadership of organizations like the Institute for Public Relations, has brought about some change in the general attitudes of the industry toward measurement.
But online marketing is an increasingly complex and demanding terrain, and with marketers turning more and more to external providers, rather than building technological platforms internally, the demand will only increase for strategic partners to bring with them the ability to demonstrate their efforts are working.
I have urged the PR industry to embrace the digital world. I'm even more convinced that embracing measurement, and making serious investments in such programs, is the key to survival in this environment. Soon, it won't be enough to generate buzz, build communities, or even drive traffic online. The challenge will be to motivate action, and PR will be held as accountable as other disciplines to make it happen.
PRWeek is accepting nominations for its first-ever "40 Under 40" special, appearing in the December 3 issue. The editorial staff will profile 40 agency, corporate, and nonprofit pros under 40 who are doing outstanding work for their clients/companies. Featured pros will demonstrate innovative thinking, determination, and results that indicate a long and successful PR career.
To nominate someone, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include the following: nominee's name, title, age, name of firm/company/organization, name of person nominating, and reason why the person should be considered. Deadline is October 15.