P&G's PR ROI study is a call to action for other companies

Procter & Gamble has deservedly won much attention and acclaim for its groundbreaking study into the ROI of PR, and our cover story this week goes inside the company to look at the process behind the scenes, and how it will drive its marketing efforts going forward.

Procter & Gamble has deservedly won much attention and acclaim for its groundbreaking study into the ROI of PR, and our cover story this week goes inside the company to look at the process behind the scenes, and how it will drive its marketing efforts going forward.

But one question that came out of PRWeek's conversations with the Cincinnati giant was, put simply, where next? As Hans Bender, external relations manager, global household care for P&G, asked: Now that we know PR works, and on many key brands has a larger ROI than any other marketing discipline, how do we grow our investment into the discipline and still maintain the same ROI?

It's a key mathematical quandary for any company considering investment in anything: a $5.25 ROI for a small investment is one thing; how do you know you'll get a $5.25 ROI for an investment of twice, three times, 10 times the size?

What is also difficult, now that there are so many ways that smart marketers can reach out to consumers, is measuring an ongoing relationship with the brand, rather than the level of engagement consumers have with specific brand programs.

To that end, many of the endeavors that P&G described to PRWeek to put its measurement methodologies into context were finite campaigns, rather than ongoing awareness efforts. Common to most of these efforts was a call to action requiring a level of engagement beyond passive absorption - such as hotlines, product purchasing for a cause, and visiting a Web site to download songs and ring tones.

That was echoed last week at the Advertising Research Foundation's annual convention, at which Dawn Hudson, president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, discussed the concept of brand engagement, distinct from awareness, and described Pepsi's plans to offer customized ring tones for consumers. The thinking is that while marketers cannot expect more than a moment at a time of engagement, it can be self-repeating. So, while Pepsi's transaction (consumer buys drink, looks at lid, goes online, and downloads ring tone) is short-lived, the consumer will think of Pepsi whenever his or her phone rings.

The call to action has previously been used more to talk about the activities of the direct marketing industry. But the adoption of two-way technologies by marketers and consumers - even a basic Web site - has made this something that is available to any discipline, not just those with the expensive databases.

The call to action can be a crucial element of measuring consumer PR programs, because the cost of measuring media-based activities alone can be a stumbling block for many marketers. P&G's global external relations officer Charlotte Otto says herself that there aren't enough affordable impressions-gathering companies out there - although many are developing their business models to be able to include a wide range of price points.

It's reasonable to expect that as a PR budget expands, so too will be the cost of measuring its ROI. P&G, in its role as a marketing leader, has its sights on investigating the PR budget's scalability. Other marketers will learn much from the outcome.

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