One of the toughest tasks we face as a PR professional is proving the value of our work. Research overwhelmingly shows that PR is worth many times its cost to employers and clients. But PR professionals often overlook promoting this worth. We are too busy working on behalf of others to do a soft sell on our own behalf. But no one else will promote the worth of our role, so we need to do it for ourselves.
My own experience bears this out. In hindsight I spent too many years with my head down, working long hours. I feel I didn’t have time to attend to the politics and to the self-promotion. I should have; even though I held various PR management positions, I would have been even more influential by applying more of the tips below. Follow them up and you will enhance your own career:
Form a plan and promote it
Develop a realistic plan of communication activities with measurable objectives that show how the plan is supporting the organization’s key goals and objectives. No one can challenge your plan if you indicate which goals and objectives it specifically supports, and the tangible results you are seeking, especially financial results.
Get your boss or client to sign off on the plan. In this way they can’t later claim they didn’t know what you intended to do or just went along with it. Get them to literally sign a hard copy of your document, or ask them to indicate by return email that they approve your plan. This tangible commitment is likely to motivate them to support your work more than they would otherwise (the psychological principle of reciprocation and commitment).
Make a presentation to your boss and/or your management committee on the key points and rollout of your plan. Brief other functional managers and relevant staff. Outline the broad points in your organizational newsletter. Brief relevant external contractors such as your advertising agency and PR consultancy.
Emphasize activities that strengthen the bottom line
Prioritize activities in your communication plan that offer the biggest and fastest financial return or improvement in operational performance. Ensure the results of these activities are measurable in dollar terms. Other activities can fall into place around these.
The easiest (and most shallow) objectives and results relate to media coverage and social media engagement. But this is only activity, only a means to an end, not an end in itself. You can get heaps of publicity and Facebook likes, but no increased financial return or end-audience response. Therefore, avoid the trap of depending on news coverage or social media likes to ‘prove’ the worth of your communication activities. Instead, focus on results that you can direct connect to increasing profitability.
Especially avoid the trap of using AVEs – advertising value equivalence. Evidence shows that trying to put a figure on the value of publicity coverage by comparing it with the cost of placing advertisements in the same space or time is misleading and false.
Set measurable objectives
Research proves time and again that PR provides great ROI, so don’t be afraid to commit to tangible results. Set measures in place from the start so you have a baseline to refer back to. Many PR professionals forget about baseline measures and then regret not having hard data to compare against later.
Provide progress reports on your results. Share this information widely – after ensuring the measures stand up to scrutiny. Keep the measures as factual as possible. You don’t want scoffers saying your results are soft, too subjective and full of puffery.
Regular reporting will lift the profile of the PR function and keep PR in the minds of people you deal with. It will help to identify gaps in measurement techniques and enable you to adjust tactics progressively.
Don’t try to put a gloss on everything in your reporting. Make it clear to stakeholders that no program is perfect and that you will learn from mistakes in the interests of continuous improvement. Perfect results look a bit fake to the experienced reviewer, so don’t be afraid to mention areas needing improvement.
By following these tips you will be able to clearly show the good value obtained from public relations activities. This will enable you to justify budgets and increase management confidence in your PR role.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.