Thursday, July 08, 2010

PR measurement...why counting dollars is like playing poker with matchsticks

ASR - the Emperor's new clothes?

If you're a capable PR person short on a laugh, read this article on mumbrella. Media Monitors have just launched a new measure of PR effectiveness. It's based, to the horror of some, on advertising value.

Note it's NOT called AVE - advertising value equivalent. It's called ASR - advertising space rates.

After I stopped laughing at the spin I had to admire what they've done.

PR professionals may not like it but if I were betting I'd say it will be a winner. Here's why.

PR measurement is, to say the least, somewhat vexed as a subject.

The summary sometimes sounds like is this: to AVE (advertising value equivalent) or not? 

The longer version includes a whole bunch of conversations about support from stakeholders, building reputation and some other stuff.

To the CEO that can sound like "blah blah blah...really, PR matters...blah blah blah". Often what the C-suite will judge PR success or failure on is the credibility of the people doing it and whether or not their peers are mentioning their media coverage.

Of course that's an exaggeration but it does bring us to the ugly subject of how should we really measure public relations success - and how Media Monitors are proposing to.

Now I am well aware that the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) prohibits using AVE as a measure.

As the MD of a PR firm where excellence and integrity are core values, I've stuck by that code of ethics. We defend, and use, other forms of measurement.

BUT, and it's a big but, I do have some very positive experiences of working in a very large listed Australian entity and using AVE to superb effect.

How so? It's simple. A large number gets a large amount of attention. It focuses senior executives on the value of the reputation building work done by the media team, and it gives the team a benchmark.

Not a value - simply a benchmark.

So, like playing poker with matchsticks, the currency is somewhat meaningless.

What is meaningful is a single number that is:
- measured in a consistent manner
- objectively assessed and
- provides the C-suite (and the media team) with a simple way to measure PR effectiveness.

Of course until the PRIA allows some form of dollar measurement, we most likely won't use it.

We''ll keep measuring, for example, impressions. And hoping the debate moves on, towards a single, industry-wide agreed metric.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Strengths - and why they matter in your communication

Fresh from a recent Strengths workshop with Marcus Buckingham I'm looking at the world slightly differently.

Marcus Buckingham's book "Go put your strengths to work" and one of his recent Sydney seminars was all about how playing to our strengths at work makes us happier and more productive.

And who among us doesn't want that??

This evening I tore the little cards out of the back of Buckingham's book, and started to obediently document when I'd recently "felt strong" (at home, kneading work, meeting an interesting CEO for the first time) and "felt weak" (at home, washing work, in a very routine meeting).

The exercise bears a startling resemblance to the planning methodology we use with clients.

Invariably we look for both organisational strengths and weaknesses. Strategies, messaging and actions plans are most usually based around the company's areas of relative advantage - in Buckinham's world that equates to strengths.

Risk management, and what we might call "preventative" messaging or actions, come from real or potential areas of weakness.

How much time do we focus on strengths versus weaknesses in a client's PR program? About 90% on strengths and about 10% on weaknesses - unless we're engaged on issues or crisis management.

While there are no little coloured cards we fill out for a client, we usually do overtly partner with clients via a planning process or during an engagement to uncover, articulate and promote areas of relative strength - often these are sources of sustainable competitive advantage as well as key levers in a communication program.

Other times the organisational strengths we uncover with clients might be defined entirely by current news or a particular context. For example in internal communication a strength that you want to dial up may well be defined by the culture or current internal climate, as well as the relative allure of other employers and status of the job market.

Buckingham's work makes a strong case for organising our jobs, no matter at what level, around our strengths, rather than around minimising our weaknesses.

I'd suggest, very simply, the same works in public relations. If firms have their value proposition right (for clients, employees or investors) then communicationg strengths allows stakeholders to find themselves a good match - the service or product provider, employer or investment that best meets their particular needs. The organisation that gives them something they need, and value.

Just as playing to our strengths, and helping others play to theirs, enables diverse work mates to co-exist. When we get it right, as teams or service providers, there's a nice symbiosis between one person's weaknesses and the next's strengths.
With that in mind I'm going to check on the bread...I "felt strong" kneading the dough but it might take a better baker than I am to achieve a good loaf.

To skip from the personal to the professional, and in particular the practice of public relations, good communication helps us find that work team, client or service provider who "completes" us.