Some things in life can be counted on to occur annually, like birthdays, anniversaries, and debates about whether the holidays are early or late. Similarly in PR, the question of ROI rolls around about this time every year.
It's an ongoing issue, telling and retelling the PR value proposition story to skeptical marketers who want “good PR,” but can't quite get their arms around what it means or what it does for them. For every brand manager who values PR, there's one who pigeon holes it for managing a crisis or announcing hard news. Too many are still fuzzy on how PR contributes to business objectives.
Take sales. Can PR be directly linked to sales or generate leads the way direct-to-consumer or digital campaigns do? Or is PR better positioned as a sales enabler or a sales supporter or, better still, “above” sales? I've had this conversation for the 25 years I've been in this business.
Many models, metrics, and dashboards later, I've come to believe that, in addition to the not insignificant credibility factor, halo effect, and ability to engage a target audience, PR can be a direct contributor to brand sales – assuming the effort is built for that objective – and that proof is within reach.
Any model is only as reliable as the input, and it follows then that the richer the input, the harder the numbers, and the more persuasive the conclusion.
The role of integration – real integration, not parallel work streams – is critical here. When multiple agencies – PR, advertising, digital, and customer relationship management, in the case of healthcare – work together on both thematic development and tactical execution, the result is a multi-channel, richly textured effort in which each discipline is precisely calibrated to support the others and yielding a whole that is way more than the sum of its parts. ROI from efforts like this can be readily proven with most conversion models or comparisons with control markets.
I value every integration opportunity I get, not only for the benefits it confers to a brand and the creative and strategic give-and-take with my colleagues from other parts of the marketing mix, but also the chance to demonstrate a “hard” ROI.
Too often PR operates in a silo leaving the burden of proof on PR alone. Of course, that's when our own, solid metrics kick in. More often than not they are good enough, at least until the next year.
Sandra Stahl is a partner at Jacobstahl.