Measure impact and your PR campaign is more likely to create a lasting legacy, says Nitin Mantri

A recent Open magazine article has opened the Pandora’s Box, claiming that almost every day; the media is influenced by Gujarat’s Public Relations machinery. What, however, caught my interest was the ‘Request for Proposal’ (RFP) document, which was questioned by the publication for its ‘deliverables’. How does a client measure an agency’s performance? I guess many would argue it is easier if it’s down to quantifiable deliverables like outputs and outcomes (e.g. interviews and resultant coverage). The procurement and finance guys are the key proponents for this one! But, there is more to PR than plain deliverables. It’s about impact. And, therefore it’s about measuring that impact.

It's easy to get lost in deliverables, but that inadvertently carries the risk of losing sight of the importance of engagement during a campaign. Both clients and agencies need to do a rethink. PR agencies should never over promise. When a client sends a request for an RFP, it is the agency’s chance to clearly explain what they can do, and exactly how they will do it. It is tempting when drafting a proposal to oversell your capabilities, or weave in other services you offer that have no relation to the RFP. It’s important not to fall into this trap. Let’s be realistic. Demands for a specified number of stories or presence of editors at events or shows on television may be fulfilled by the agency, but clients should also not lose sight of the fact that PR is the strategic management of issues and perception, with communications just a tactic. 

Engagement does not happen with the publication of a few stories in newspapers. It is our duty to make the client understand this critical aspect. The need for PR professionals to prove the value of their work and provide clients with a quantifiable ROI has never been greater.

So, what do you measure?

PR is a great marketing tool. It helps in building a unique trust and affinity with the audience. I don’t think any other industry is as qualified to engage meaningfully with its stakeholders as the PR industry. But, times are changing and the marketing landscape is evolving. Hence, if the PR industry has to solidify its place in the integrated marketing solutions space, obsolete metrics like AVE, fixed deliverables, etc. need to be abandoned and sophisticated campaign-based measurement tools adopted. These days, if you cannot measure a campaign, then it does not exist. It goes without saying that one of the most critical aspects of any campaign is whether it worked.

The power to influence behavior is in the hands of the PR industry and, thus it is imperative that the tools of measurement shift from Investment to Involvement and/or Engagement. A PR exercise can excite a consumer to enter an apparel store by highlighting the fashion quotient, but will the consumer make the actual purchase is dependent on various other propositions like value for money, service delivery by the in-store manager etc. Why isn’t then PR effectiveness measured by footfalls than through a non-justified sales numbers? The challenge of a successful campaign is not garnering media coverage, but measuring how the coverage contributed to the organisation’s bottom line or perception change or whatever the campaign started out to achieve (definitely not number of stories!). Unfortunately, that remains a challenge for most PR agencies as they lack the courage to present the truth before clients.

As we move closer to a world in which global publishing power lies in every person’s pocket, the punishment for failing to listen, engage, anticipate and respond effectively will be severe; and the rewards for an agency that invests in defining and therefore inoculating itself through Involvement / Engagement will be rich. So, it is high time the RFP’s asked for campaigns and for agencies to deliver creative campaigns that leave a lasting impression.

Nitin Mantri is CEO and Business Partner at Avian Media

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