Measuring PR Performance Against Budget – An IPREX Conversation

sip_share_logo_finalYears ago a public company CEO told me: “I hate PR. I  know we need it, but I never know if it’s worth the money. I don’t know if it’s doing well. I don’t know how much I should pay. Yet I know we have to have it.” I was shocked because I had a deep conviction about the short- and long-term value of good PR. Yet over the years I have met many other business leaders who felt the same way. Sales are easy to measure. PR, not so much.

 

That has shifted with social media and easily-destroyed reputations, and an increasing number of executive teams see PR as a necessary part of building and maintaining a strong reputation while making deposits into the “bank of goodwill,” as one IPREX partner notes below. Yet they still have trouble measuring PR’s value.

 

At the IPREX annual meeting in Berlin, I asked a few of our colleagues from various regions and countries how they measure PR performance against budgets. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that performance metrics vary dramatically according to company, marketing manager and campaign. In a business where the only certainty is what you give — the effort and creativity devoted to building awareness or shifting audience perception — there’s a wide range of ways to look at what you get in return.

 

Michael Fineman, President, Fineman PR, San Francisco
First, it’s critical to benchmark campaign goals at the very beginning and obsessively measure and report on the agency’s progress specific to these goals.

 

Second, there is the intangible element. We all know when our client is doing well. When that’s the case, a campaign or program can fall short of its goals and there can still be a sense of success. This can be enough to keep a relationship healthy and moving forward, and obviously adjusting for better results. Conversely, if a client’s business is struggling or failing, it might make no difference if the agency meets or exceeds program goals — the relationship is at risk.

 

Kathy Tunheim, Principal & CEO, Tunheim, Minneapolis
It’s all about taking responsibility for being understood. That is what we help our clients to do, and we know we need to hold ourselves to the same metrics.  So value is achieved – and measuredas a combination of our level of effort and the difference we made in our clients’ business.  If we spend lots of effort but don’t impact their results, that is low performance.  The goal, of course, is high impact with optimal effort:  Score!! 

 

Casper Jenster, EMEA Director, IPREX, The Netherlands
We often will look at the level of effort and help our client understand what this should have cost with other firms or, based on results, if they bought advertising for that kind of space. They often don’t realize the value of what they get. Also, it’s important to note that level of effort is clear and easy to quantify, but results are not always predictable in our business. Sometimes they can be disappointed, even though there was great effort put into a program.

 

Nick Vehr, President, Vehr Communications, Cincinnati
We measure against expectations and report regularly for most clients. Our goal is to initiate a conversation with each client engagement/project focused on the client objective. When it is increased sales or market share growth, we look at how we influenced leads understanding that we cannot close sales — the client’s sales team must do this. Some of the metrics we use include:
  • Ouputs: the work we do/things we produce (content, plans, posts, white papers, etc.).
  • Outtakes: attitude change in target audiences as a result of outputs generated. This often requires original research for which not all clients are willing to pay.
  • Outcomes: desired target audience action (inquiries, leads, sales, etc., which typically become the client’s responsibility).
John Scheibel, CEO and Mary Scheibel, Founder and Principal, Trefoil Group, Milwaukee, WI
John: “You need to work with the client to find metrics that tie as closely to the client’s income statement as possible. And if you wait until the end of an initiative or campaign to do this, it’s too late.”

 

Mary: It’s important to counsel companies who are transitioning from sales-centric to marketing-centric cultures. When they are just beginning to invest in marketing and public relations, they often invest just enough money to be dissatisfied.”

Helga Tomtschick, Managing Partner, Lang & Tomaschtik Communications, Austria
One of the key metrics is the CEO’s personal satisfaction. The client CEO needs to feel like PR is an insurance policy. Whether there is a crisis or difficulty, whether there is good news or bad, the PR agency is there to help. If the client CEO understands that his marketing team and agency feel responsible  for his or her well-being, then the relationship will be strong.

 

John Williams, CEO, Mason Williams Communications, London
We have an agency mantra – Did It Make Any Difference? (DIMAD). We use this as a measure against all activity. We work really closely with all our clients to understand what results THEY want and, in our case, it is usually sales or influence of one kind or another. All communicators need to understand that a nice big piece of media coverage is great, but if it doesn’t make any difference to the parameters against which the activity is judged by their client the only benefit is to the ego.

 

Andrei Mylroie, Partner, DH, Spokane, WA
One of the things we’ve seen over the past five years is marketing and communications being viewed as a core business strategy for many of our clients. This is a big shift from the past, where it was viewed by many organizations as a more tactical service or department. Along with this shift we’re measuring differently as well. So it’s not just reach, frequency, ad equivalency, etc., but we’re tracking reputation, consumer sentiment and business outcomes in far more holistic ways.

 

Alyn Edwards, Partner, Peak Communications, Vancouver, Canada
Unfortunately scope-creep is part of our industry, and in media relations we are always trying to do more for the same budget. We often have to measure by number of impressions, and while it’s not the only measure, it’s a pretty strong one. For some clients, such as in real estate, the sales effect can be quickly measured.

More importantly, clients need to understand that PR is making deposits in the bank of goodwill. When you make those deposits in the bank of goodwill, which is commonly called your reputation, this will:

  • help sales
  • help recruitment
  • help with instant recall
  • and help dramatically in times of crisis.

We have had clients with significant food recalls, but their decades of deposits in the bank of goodwill have helped them through it. What is the ROI for having a good reputation? It’s unending.

 

Gut versus data – the eternal question

Gut versus data

I used to be a math geek. When I was a grade school and high school student, I displayed advanced behaviors with regards to numbers and their interrelationships. I nearly attended a technical university in order to continue exploring mathematics.

Funny track for a designer, no?

Today, as someone who designs experiences for other humans, I rely less on my knowledge of numbers and more on my intuition. The ubiquitous head-versus-heart argument has always intrigued me so I recently scoured the web for some additional insight. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

But that means us too, as leaders, need to have the guts to go with our intuition sometimes instead of hiding behind the numbers. Hiding behind the numbers is the easy way, because even if it goes wrong, it’s easy for us to say that with the information we had it seemed pretty clear that that was what we should have tried blah blah blah. What’s harder is making a decision because you feel like it’s the one that needs to be made. Your gut tells you it’s the right one. You won’t have the luxury of hiding behind the numbers if you’re wrong, but at least you’re actually thinking and making decisions instead of doing what the numbers tell you to do. – workplace MOJO

Don’t get me wrong — you need data. You should be gathering all the data you can from the very beginning. But you also need to know that your data is not absolute — it’s incomplete, and you simply don’t have enough of it to base your decisions fully on data. You gather all the inputs you can, but your decision really boils down to both using your head AND trusting your gut. So while there’s no exact formula, when it’s time to make the decision of whether to make a change or stick with your original business plan: gather your data, consider all the advice, and take some time to listen to what your gut has to say. – The Accelerators blog

Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and psychologist, said “gut instinct is basically a form of pattern recognition.” Our brains can process more information on a more sophisticated level than most of us realize. These complex systems — battlefields, financial markets, company cultures and corporate strategies — require a different kind of thinking based on the informed gut. In these situations, you will never collect enough data or be able to weigh every alternative in order to rationalize an analytical decision. However, your subconscious has already amassed sufficient cues to tell your gut how to move forward. All you have to do is listen to it, trust your instincts and make the best decision you can with the limited information available. – Austin Business Journal

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards… you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

Did you need data to choose your life-partner? How about your alma mater? Was there deep analysis that led you to choose the name of your first-born? Likely, not. But you still can’t tell your board or your leadership team that you need to launch a new service offering, because ‘your gut says so’.” The Reaganesque ‘Trust But Verify’ works for us. Use your guts to lead you to a hypothesis. Use your intuition to decide on how best to verify it. Then, go get the data and build the case to win over your peers and bosses. Sooner or later, the decision-makers will need to trust their guts to make the call. After all, even when the evidence is beyond the shadow of a doubt, the decider needs to take a leap of faith when the time comes to choose.” – Corporater World

In the end, the debate continues, but one strategy remains clear: balance helps with decision-making. Both your gut and the numbers need to play critical roles in both design and business decisions.

Check out your content’s legs and learn how to use them!

Remember “top and tail”? It’s a British expression that means changing the introduction and conclusion of an article to place it in different journals. Topping and tailing an article meant you could re-purpose it several times in different vertically-focused media, such as monthly magazines targeting design engineers in different markets. Back then (like a decade ago), if content had legs, it meant you could top and tail it a few times without needing to extract new information from engineers or others who are tough to pin down.
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Finding True Clout

Austin’s skyline and some Counselors Academy folks on a sunset cruise.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at PRSA’s Counselors Academy event in Austin. Besides having a great time with other industry folks (including a sunset cruise on the last night to see Austin’s famous bats), this is one event that I try to make every year. It’s proven valuable in helping run Fresh Ground and getting a sense for where the PR industry is headed.

This year I also had a chance to speak, and I focused on understanding influence. The presentation below gives a sense of how we look at influencer relations. Also below is a short video in which I’m interviewed by Mike Bako about, among other things, videos. I should note that the videos we’re discussing in the interview are not the Vine and Instagram videos that many are talking about now, but the longer videos that populate YouTube and Vimeo.

I Want it Now! The Long Path to Overnight Success

"Your Name in Lights" by Almond Butterscotch

“Your Name in Lights” by Almond Butterscotch

“I’ve been working with you for a couple of months, why am I not famous?”

A client once said that to me. Well, more than one client. The fact is, he wasn’t famous because these things take time.

Very often prospects come to us and say “we’re launching in two weeks and we want big media, can you do it?”

Our answer is always, “no, we can’t.” Getting attention takes time, not just for the initial launch, which is a good start, but for long-term growth. No one story or one blog post or one tweet will set the world on fire. You need a plan, a full program, aimed at an ultimate goal. Any PR program, whether it is focused on media or social, takes consistent, sustained effort to truly develop and grow.

While I’m writing about PR programs, this is also true of careers. In a great blog post on the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Gulati points out that fast-tracking your career isn’t always the best move. Whether it’s pop music stars or Amazon, time matters. Spending the time to build means long-term success, but rushing to get things done can lead to failure.

As an example, let’s take a look at two recent viral video examples, both of which took a lot of time to become “overnight sensations.” The first is the “47 Percent” video that is credited with helping paint Governor Mitt Romney as out of touch with the electorate.

Scott Prouty, the man behind the video, discussed taking it and making it public this week, but what’s most interesting to me is the work he put in to getting publicity.

According to a Buzzfeed timeline, the video first surfaced online on May 31. Then on June 10, Prouty worked to get some buzz on it. According to the Huffington Post, Prouty spent the next few months going into comments sections of various sites and writing about it, sending it to journalists and even sending it to the Romney campaign.

Finally he reached out to James Carter using tried and true media relations techniques: research and outreach. The Huffington Post started chasing the story in late August, but it wasn’t until early September that the story finally hit anything resembling a mainstream media target. The same day Mother Jones posted the video and it took off from there.

So from the moment the video was first posted online to the moment it began its true rise took about four months.

Now let’s look at a more recent video, one that graphically and clearly demonstrates wealth inequality in America. It’s a great video, I first saw it on Facebook and many of my (liberal) friends are sharing it.

Marketplace points out that the video had a long road from production to mass viewership. It first went live in November, but as you can see from the stats, its viewership didn’t take off until the very end of February, nearly three months. And most of that came thanks to mentions by both Mashable and uber-meme-leader George Takei.

The viewership stats for the Wealth Inequity in America video show a long time of inactivity before virality.

The viewership stats for the Wealth Inequity in America video show a long time of inactivity before virality.

Now to be fair, three to six months isn’t a lot of time. But to many tech companies who expect results immediately, it can seem like an eternity.

However, hidden in both of these examples are the stories you didn’t see and the luck involved in creating viral success. What videos of politicians did we not see because the people posting weren’t as committed to getting the word out? What if Mashable just didn’t find the inequities video all that interesting? Or if they weren’t searching YouTube in the first place?

Also to consider: what defines “success” for these videos? In the first case it was about broad exposure, but for the second I’m not sure the producer ever had much of a goal in mind. For other videos, if the goal is to reach a small audience or explain something to a specific group, then the measurement is much different.

The bottom line is that true fame (and any fortune ensuing from that) takes time and effort. Overnight successes are rarely overnight successes, even in the fast-paced world of social media.

How are you measuring your PR?

Throughout my career companies have asked for coverage. They know what they want to say, they know what they want to promote, they know the sales figures they want to meet. They know they need PR.

They just aren’t sure why.

Todd likes to say that the best thing about social media and modern PR is that you can measure everything. Oh, and the worst thing about social media and PR is that you can measure everything.

His point is that you may not be measuring the right thing.

Many of our clients focus on a single but very important measurement: website traffic. That is, does a media hit (online or offline) result in website traffic? There are multiple ways to measure this, whether it’s looking at referrals, measuring traffic from a geographic location, looking at traffic numbers from a day with coverage versus a similar time period, or including twitter traffic generated by a particular piece of coverage. It can all go into that measurement.

But not every piece of media will drive traffic. For example, we’ve put clients in the big city publications that used to make clients drool, only to see little or no discernible traffic spike. The reason is simple: some big publications just don’t provide links. No links, no traffic. Asking people to take an action (searching on a company name or finding a website) is a barrier to results.

So the question becomes, if a piece of coverage doesn’t drive traffic, is it effective?

The answer isn’t so simple.

Let’s take the work we did for TeraDiode, a laser manufacturer in Littleton, Mass. As part of our outreach Xconomy’s Greg Huang wrote a great piece. Thanks to some great writing that piece got “slashdotted.”

If you just look at the traffic numbers, SlashDot drove quite a bit of traffic, though it tended to be low quality. Most of the users bounced and few knew anything about the type of lasers TeraDiode is in the business of building.

But that SlashDot hit helped the story get picked up by a number of other publications, like PhysOrg and R&D Magazine. The traffic from those sites had low bounce rates, high pages per visit and resulted in whitepaper downloads. It also caught the eye of a reporter at Jane’s Defence Weekly, a primary target. It should be noted that Jane’s doesn’t include links in its coverage.

So, was SlashDot worth it? Yes, if you measure its broad impact, not just its direct impact.

Of course, most media programs won’t have that kind of turnaround. A mention in a broad publication like the Boston Globe or Newsweek may not result in immediate impact. But its ancillary benefits include third-party validation and helping build credibility so you can gain bigger or more relevant coverage.

To get there, you need to plan for the long-run.

So what are the takeaways here?

  1. Know what you’re measuring — Yes, you can easily measure site visits, but that may not be your only goals. You may also be looking for venture funding or doing some recruiting. You may simply be looking to build awareness. Different hits have different purposes and need to be measured with a different yardstick.
  2. Have realistic expectations — A single “hit” in a widely read publication isn’t going to bring you thousands of new users. You need to keep your information flowing, both through your own content and by sharing others. Your primary goal is to build an audience, not just gain a short-term bump.
  3. Know where PR Fits In — Influencer relations is a part of the traffic-driving puzzle, but if you don’t have a way to capture that traffic, then it’s like going fishing with a hoop instead of a net. People should come to your site and know what to do next. Don’t let them bounce, keep them warm.
  4. Plan for the long haul — It’s tempting to measure PR on a week-by-week basis, but a program takes time to develop. A hit today in a small online publication may be what you need to move up to the bigger, more impressive and more traffic-driving publications down the road.
  5. Understand where you belong — While the Boston Globe may not yield major results for technology companies who want site traffic, I’ve spoken with consumer-goods companies that say a single piece their made their year. They needed awareness that later turned into sales. It’s a very different measure. Another company may find that CMSWire drives the most relevant traffic. Success depends a long list of factors.

Just a Number: Measuring Influence is Personal

Mention “Klout” in a social media conversation and you’ll hear groans, frustrations and grumbling.

But all those folks know their Klout score.

I don’t need to rehash how Klout recently changed its algorithm and sent Twitter ablaze with vitriol. You can read a great piece on the impact and find the alternatives here. But what has always been frustrating about Klout is how it tries to apply a number to something rather arbitrary. We’ve trod this ground before, but it came up again today during an online event called “Relevant Influence – Discovering and Engaging with Influencers for Effective Social Marketing” moderated by Chris Selland of Terametric. Mike Maney, who is an incredibly intelligent marketer, pointed out how he does most of his work by hand. He becomes an influencer, he learns the influencers he needs to know and just talks to them. Sure, there are tools out there to help him do that, but sometimes it comes down to something simple.

Like collecting the top influencers on a given topic at a Mexican restaurant at SXSW, pouring Margaritas and having a conversation.

But if you’re looking at a number like a Klout score you need to ask yourself “what are you truly measuring?” Even accepted measurements have flaws. For evidence of that look no further than a great Freakonomics video on Football stats. They point out how seemingly simple metrics like a QB’s passing yards never tell the whole story. The video points out that last season, quarterbacks who threw for 300 or more yards a game went 47-49. When you look at those QBs with 400+ passing games, that record drops to 3-11. (I’d like to note here that Joe Namath was the MVP of Superbowl III without throwing a single touchdown pass. He didn’t throw any passes in the 4th quarter. Yet the Jets still won.)

I like what Klout is attempting to do: trying to provide everyone with a simple way to measure influence. The problem is, it means different things to different people and has a dozen different contexts.

In other words, “influence” isn’t so simple to measure.

Influence: The Big Picture

A client called B.S. on me today. I was asked to judge the potential influence of a blogger and twitterer who had posted a detailed response to some claims that my client had made about his company’s product. I came back with an answer which was informed not by our usual in-depth analysis, but by a quick scan of Google, Klout, Twinfluence, Technorati, LinkedIn and several other social media tools and networks — and one which completely missed the boat when it came to that person’s actual influence.

Was my research wrong? No. It accurately reflected the person’s reach on social networks. But it didn’t capture his real reputation. Someone with little social capital online had a lot of social capital in real life, and without a comprehensive insider’s perspective that comes with spending years in an industry (as opposed to a couple months), my characterization was challenged by the Big Boss at my client.

The funny thing is that Chuck and I talk about this all the time — but I was asked to quickly come up with an assessment so I did, without the usual caveats that I usually attach. Don’t fall victim to this: social media influence does not reflect real life influence.

The Four Rs of Influence
In identifying and prioritizing reporters, bloggers, editors, analysts, etc., we measure influence through a proprietary mix of four primary factors, what we call The Four Rs:

  1. Reach. How many people see this person’s content, not just directly, but through other influencers and sharing?
  2. Relevance. How relevant is the person to your organization’s community?
  3. Reputation. What’s this person’s reputation with your community?
  4. Receptivity. The counterbalance that affects how much energy we expend to influence any particular influencer: how receptive will this person be to our outreach and key messages?

In my haste, I ignored the broader aspect of reputation when I whipped together my research, probably costing me a few reputation points myself. While I stand by the internal validity of my conclusions, the external validity, taking into consideration the bigger context, brought me a little embarassment when I referred to an apparent industry bigwig as someone of relatively little influence. A lesson learned.

How are you measuring influence broadly, across both online and offline social networks? Don’t forget this important lesson when you do!

Updating Mad Men: The Focus Group

This week Mad Men featured a staple of the media world: the focus group. Whether it’s a telephone survey, like the call I received from Nielsen this weekend, or grabbing a group of people off the street, the focus group is a key part of any media outreach campaign. Before understanding the messaging and positioning that world work for the whole, you must first undersand what will work for a small, carefully selected group.

The women of the Mad Men focus group

But today the focus group is open to everyone with a search window. You can open up Twitter and be greeted by a flood of information or check out the LinkedIn groups to find out what business folks are truly feeling. You can even enter traditional forums and hear the complaints and concerns of thousands of people. However, like the PhD who is running the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce focus groups, people need a guide to understand what they’re reading. It’s very easy to get lost in the “Rats Nest” of social media.

In fact, sometimes you need to entirely dismiss what you’re reading or, in other cases, provide additional emphasis. I was quoted in Mashable saying that the social media realm offers imperfect data. The point is, just a few numbers will never tell you enough of a story, you need to understand the context of the person conveying the information, online and off.

Coming back to focus groups for a moment, how they are compiled affects the information you glean from them. In Mad Men the group was made up of young, unmarried women. In fact, just before grabbing the last unmarried secretary an older secretary commented that she wasn’t wanted in the room because she was, in fact, older and married.

The results of the session were that women want to be beautiful to attract a man, according to the doctor who ran it, but it could have turned out differently with the older women in the mix. Of course, this is where Pond’s finds itself today, with an older, more mature demographic. The eventual conclusion that women are simply looking to be married and that’s why they use beauty products was rejected by top Mad Man Don Draper, who noted that putting out a year’s worth of messaging would change the conversation.

In the social media world, people put out information for a reason. When looking at social media for market intelligence you must ask yourself “why did this person say what they’re saying.” Otherwise you’re only getting half a story. Social search tools can help you find information and many social CRM tools exist to help you get graphs, charts and numbers to show certain trends, but there is so much more available within the social stream.

Over here at Fresh Ground we have started working with customers on a social intelligence service. That is, we look at interesting pieces of information, put them in context and then distribute that information to the appropriate internal audiences. This is how we help our clients dig up everything from sales leads to competitive intelligence.

So what would Pond’s do differently today? Well, first they’d have a lot more information about their target demographic. Then they would use that information to understand the individuals who visit their site. If they wanted to try out new messages they’d probably do a bit of A/B testing on their site to see what works. They may also test certain messages in certain demographic areas, either through online advertising, carefully located display ads or buying air time in specific programs. They’d also dig into the social media intelligence to find out what people in their targeted demographics are discussing, then find ways into those conversations.

And hopefully, when they’re done, no one ends up crying or throwing heavy objects at Don Draper.

Does Google Discourage Diversity?

During the Mass TLC Social Media Summit 2010, David Weinberger pointed out how marketers love the “echo chamber” in which they get to hear lots of positive feedback from people who already love them. The problem with this, he says, is that the echo chamber may satisfy our bosses and clients, thereby making us look good, but it does little to help advance true thinking. He believes we should be encouraging more diverse thought.

David Weinberger as seen on Wikipedia

He’s right, of course. Later in the morning Mike Troiano gave a shout-out to the concept of diversity of thought in his listening talk by noting that “listening is the means by which we corrupt our vision with the external reality.” That is, we (entrepreneurs) may think we know everything, but when we start listening to the people around us, we realize that we know less and need to think more.

On the surface, Weinberger is right. Diversity of thought and ideas leads often leads to stronger discussions. That is, when it doesn’t end with a bunch of guys yelling “You suck!” “No, YOU suck!” Or worse, with one US Senator beating another with a cane.

Generally speaking, informed discourse is the way to go, it’s why we have Freedom of the Press. If we had state-run news agencies that providing everything we needed to know, we wouldn’t be able to check on our government. Worse, the government would be getting and relaying information only from those with the money to lobby, and no one would be there to shout “this isn’t right!” (I’m looking at you BP who told the government experts that cutting the big oil pipe would result in a 20 percent increase in oil, something that the media parroted. Only, today NPR reported that it could, in fact, be much worse.)

In any case, when it comes to diverse thought we have a small problem. Well, a big problem, actually. It’s called Google.

Marketers bow before Google as the god of online marketing. Putting out a press release? Run it through a few SEO tools to make sure your keywords line up just right. Reporter writing stories find themselves rewarded based on the number of views their stories achieve, something that plays directly into Google’s hands. But rising in the Google rankings means playing to the echo chamber.

Here’s how it works. Let’s assume that a bunch of people linked to Dave Weinberger’s site calling him the smartest guy on the Internet. Eventually you’ll be able to search Google for the “smartest guy on the Internet” and find Dave. Pretty cool. But if there is diversity, some may call him the smartest guy, but others may say he’s the biggest moron they know. Now Google is a bit confused. Maybe both searches get to him, but more likely another guy becomes the smartest guy on the Internet and Dave loses out.

So if marketers need to get Google to look their way they need the echo chamber. They need those links that portray their company (or their client’s company) in a positive light, containing the right links, etc.

Granted, this is a bit of a simplification, but you get the point.

Which raises a pretty important question. While Google opens us up to a wealth of information that has never been available, does it also push us to be less diverse in our thought?