PR's goal must be its own authenticity

With a heightened emphasis on "authenticity," it seems that few would argue with PR counsel calling for honesty, clarity, and precision in the new communications environment.

With a heightened emphasis on “authenticity,” it seems that few would argue with PR counsel calling for honesty, clarity, and precision in the new communications environment. And yet, when it comes to two common PR functions – objectives-setting and evaluation – many practitioners are deliberately vague, imprecise, and sometimes even disingenuous.

If you have judged PR competitions as I have, then you are familiar with objectives like these: “Deliver significant media attention” or “break through the media clutter.” How about “deliver media splash and generate emotional buzz?” How do these objectives allow for definitive, transparent evaluation? The simple answer is that they do not.

Most executives who fund PR programs have no idea what these objectives mean or how their performance will be measured. But if you're like many PR people, you are padding important client communication with similarly meaningless phrases. What's more, consider that these examples originated in submissions from a PR awards competition. If those programs considered to be award-worthy are incomprehensible, what can be said about the programs not considered to be among “the best of the best” to begin with?

One firm president helped me understand. He told me that he would rather sacrifice the recognition that comes with being a proven success in exchange for never being proven to be an absolute failure.

Most PR research and evaluation today is done for two reasons: to provide the feedback that's needed to set objectives for improved performance and to demonstrate PR's value and the degree to which a firm met the objectives it set. Unfortunately, when agencies choose to substitute vague jargon for clear and precise communication, neither goal is achieved. Instead, let's communicate more clearly to give clients and staff a path forward and a reason to believe – and invest – in PR.

What follows are four suggestions to help firms succinctly communicate their objectives, performance, and accomplishments:

• Be precise. Whether the objective is to generate media coverage or elevate awareness, attitudes, or business outcomes, be specific when setting objectives and delivering results.

• Conform to fact. Avoid vagaries and inflationary measures when setting goals and evaluating performance.

• Use simple language. Let everyone benefit during the objectives-setting, strategy development, and evaluation stages by making it easier to plan for and assess improved results.

• Set expectations. Evolution might require adjustment for clients. Help them understand why change is happening and seek alignment.

As drivers for authenticity, PR pros must set the pace by practicing what they preach. There are many sources of objectives-setting and information evaluation, including the Institute for Public Relations, IABC, and PRSA, as well as through content made available by PRWeek. Commit to educating clients and staff. Much of this information is free, and it's easy to develop in-house expertise.

The authenticity revolution is happening. If a PR pro is not committed to becoming proactive about objectives-setting, research, and evaluation, I can assure you that at least one of their competitors already is.

Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research in North America. He is the author of Unleashing the Power of PR: A Contrarian's Guide to Marketing and Communication.

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