Many in our business continue to promote results as their ability to secure media coverage rather than the impact this messaging has on consumer attitudes and behaviors in the marketplace.
Before social media (BSM)
Traditionally, measurement in the PR world has been all about output and not so much about outcomes. It's understandable why this was the case when PR communication was essentially a business-to-media proposition grounded in outreach to various editorial gatekeepers.
The absence of absolute control over message frequency, timing, and content may have been balanced by the power of third-party endorsements. Yet, marketers believed that lack of overt control meant measurement was better focused on the ability to get past the control barriers. Thus clipping assessments (impression goals) and ad equivalencies (value) were often the barometer of success, rather than persuasive changes to target audience attitude and behavior.
After social media (ASM)
The emergence of social media platforms disrupted this traditional view at its core. Content and conversation are now the pillars of engagement, while any kind of interruptive messaging fades in salience and its ability to gain traction. Social media explodes the audiences for news consumption to include business to consumer, to investor, to employee, and to influencer, bypassing the media filter in some instances to facilitate “tweet-to-tweet” interaction.
The Internet is an ideal media universe for PR messaging built around conversation and education. As storytelling possibilities were made exponentially richer by technology, outcomes now loom large in measurement of PR strategies. The digital media evaluation tools and dashboards along with qualitative research trump the clipbook as a required measurement protocol. Now we can readily connect the dots between PR and changes in consumer attitude and behavior.
This evolution removes the last impediment to completing the ongoing transformation of PR from below-the-line communications layer to the tip of the spear in effective brand outreach. PR is indeed the new advertising and word-of-mouth is the new PR. Evolution of social media and content strategy is the enabler.
Robert Wheatley is CEO of Chicago-based Wheatley & Timmons.