Benchmarking means selecting a standard and, in the context of PR, identifying best practices in a particular discipline or industry.
Traditional benchmarking, which takes six to nine months, is a relic. The process should be afforded a fitting farewell with a tribute to Xerox, which established it some 20 years ago.
A retooled benchmarking process, which I'll get to later, can help PR pros accelerate learning curves for their organizations and inspire innovation. This, in turn, solidifies the PR pro as a facilitator for change and market growth. As a strategic tool, benchmarking is often under-utilized by the PR pro.
Perhaps it's fitting that the theme for the 2006 PRSA International Conference in Salt Lake City is "Benchmarking Your Public Relations Strategies With the Best." It forces us to consider the merits of benchmarking as we enter the season of 2007 strategic and budget planning and beyond.
An emerging trend in benchmarking takes a fresh approach to innovation in our global age. Termed "fast-cycle benchmarking,"it requires a streamlined tactical approach, focusing on a specific challenge or opportunity. No longer encumbered with identifying organizations of similar size, with similar products, consumers, etc., we can seek a variety of organizations to learn from, in addition to our competitors.
An example of great execution of this new strategy was when Mobil Corp. studied the customer loyalty factor of Home Depot and the fast turnaround of the Team Penske pit-stop crew. The pit crew study led to the introduction of the successful Speedpass - where Mobil customers can now wave their Speedpass key tag across the gas pump, which immediately and automatically communicates their payment method and preferences.
This type of benchmarking strategy can be executed in weeks instead of months, making organizations more nimble.
Given the rate at which the global marketplace is evolving, having tools to deliver results to employers and clients becomes critical. According to McKinsey & Co., almost a billion new consumers will enter the global marketplace in the next decade as economic growth in emerging markets pushes them past the threshold of $5,000 in annual household income - when people generally begin to buy discretionary goods.
Technology will ensure that borders continue to blur as consumers have access to information, products, and services worldwide. Benchmarking can be a valuable tool. However, only looking at the competition and successful organizations can be a risky oversight.
I often speak about the deadly results of confirmation bias - when we screen out information we may not agree with or that takes us out of our comfort zone. Benchmarking is fertile ground for validating our biases if we're not careful.
Thus, we must insist that, as PR counselors, we be allowed to benchmark successes and blunders. We sometimes review with intensity the major blunders that make the evening news. It's also important to benchmark those that elude public view. To avoid bias, diligence is key - in addition to asking the "what," an astute PR pro will also ask the "how."
My challenge to PR pros is to revisit benchmarking, to embrace it, and to advocate for its use with our companies and clients.
Cheryl Procter-Rogers is president and CEO of the PRSA.