Posts Tagged ‘ROI’

Major imbroglio from Forbes piece on PR and ROI

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

186140619I’m not including a link, because generally speaking, this is a case of not wanting to feed the trolls.  Over at Forbes, some guy wrote a post saying that nobody should pay for PR if they aren’t in a major organization. This brought the PR defense out onto the field, including Stephanie C from PRSA. Next thing you know, it’s a party.

OK, maybe not a party. Instead, it was a comment Battle Royale, with wounded PRs insisting that PR had value, and the writer asking for ROI figures as proof. Not awareness, not reputation, real money. Katie Paine ran in and offered her 30 examples of PR driving sales, and many others (including a great post from Gerry Corbett) supporting the bloodied public relations profession.  The writer, meanwhile, agreed that PR had value, but not for smaller enterprises who really need to convert prospects to dollars.

I thought about commenting myself, but in the end, it’s just a post with a link-bait headline and a pretty half-assed set of complaints about high retainers and lack of sales as a result. Yawn.  What’s interesting to me is the reaction from the industry. I mean, look, I say all the time that ROI is just one useful measurement of public relations — there are all kinds of things that organizations need we PRs to do other then sell. We certainly can, and do, do that, and often at much lower cost than our pals in marketing.

All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.

As I’ve said about 20,000 times, attempting to reduce all value to the monetary leads to all kinds of mischief.  If it’s just about revenue, get rid of your overhead departments entirely. Let managers take care of HR matters, use outsourced legal, stop internal communications, forget branding, make business units manage their own financials, and don’t bother with community relations or government relations… Yeah, right.

The biggest error in that guy’s thinking is that PR can be done by amateurs. Hey, if it’s only about getting your local media to cover you, just reach out to them, it’s easy, he says. Send a letter or email, do a list of media influencers on Twitter and tweet to them. Of course, unless what you have is newsworthy, you’re going to fail. Part of what we PR people do is counsel our internal or external clients on what constitutes news. We do all kinds of stuff that has value, but no direct contribution to sales. It’s not required. We help make a field more fertile for sales, we don’t plant the seeds, pull weeds (well, maybe we do that…) or spread fertilizer (except in political PR. Just kidding. )

In the end, if we add value, organizations invest in us. If we don’t we’re out. Some of that will be ROI. Some of it will be common sense.  We want to help our organizations win in the marketplace. How we do that is STRATEGY. And no matter how smart a business owner may be, chances are a professional public relations person can do a better job of creating comms strategy than he or she can.

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The perils of pricing

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I don’t know about you other #solopr folks, but trying to figure out pricing is tough. When I started Communication AMMO five years ago (holy mackerel!), I set pricing based on the agency SVP/Partner model. Some friends at a couple of agencies reviewed my CV and said that would be where they would bill me, were I working there.

The squishy thing was, a) there was a wicked huge recession on, and b) the whole “hourly” billing didn’t really apply to the initial project work. I did some math (one day planning session and $X, plus Y hours of writing the plan and Z hours of back-and-forth) and realized to make anything close to a living, I’d need a lot of planning sessions.

So I started thinking about value, the value of more than just the time, but of the years of experience. I looked back at when I’d worked for Joe Williams and what he billed for my time, and billed accordingly.  Then, when I started teaching, I learned my value was about $0.30 an hour (but I love it and am grateful for it!)

Ha-HA!

So, now there’s a chance I’ll be teaching a couple of days of master classes, and trying to figure out that billing has twisted my little grey cells into a knot. I want to do it, it’s a not for profit sponsoring it…

Thoughts? Thanks!

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Threats to PR practice, or not?

Thursday, March 20th, 2014

iStock_000009739238SmallContent marketing. Brand journalism. Native advertising. Promoted user endorsements. OK, so is this paragraph just linkbait, or what? No, it’s the subject of research from Kirk Hallahan of Colorado State University exploring whether these trends — some of which have been the provenance of public relations — are eroding the power and influence of PR in organizational communication.

kirkhallahan

Dr. Kirk Hallahan, Colorado State University

Dr. Hallahan presented the early research at the 17th annual International PR Research Conference, March 6-9. He identified five reasons for concern that PR might take the rise of these disciplines with trepidation.

Encroachment and marginalization: Marketers have seized upon all of these activities as traditional advertising has seen issues in connecting with publics. PR’s seeking of third-party endorsement doesn’t guarantee placement for organizational messages, whereas if these elements are part of a paid strategy, do. Ads permeate commercial communications, including TV, radio, and print, and consumers are increasingly turning to media that excludes advertising, including pay-cable TV, satellite radio and internet content that uses less intrusive ad strategies.  It’s an attractive proposition to simply pay for play.

Undermining professionalism in both journalism and PR: Whether it’s former journalists enlisted to produce branded copy (that often still looks like editorial) or marketers writing pithy, short copy reminiscent of advertising but presented differently, paid content could erode the perception of value of journalism and call into question whether organizations are earning coverage or not. Traditional PR could be hurt as expectations rise among organizations that merely buying “eyeballs” is enough.

Devaluation of relationship-building: The “relations” part of PR and the ideal vision of the practice calls for two-way, symmetrical relationships between organizations and publics. There are myriad examples of how strong relationships have helped organizations during times of stress, as well as how the PR/Journalist symbiosis serves the common good in a democracy.  Turning that relationship into a mere financial transaction, and corrupting the concept of user endorsements could be a threat from which the practice might not recover.

Challenges to transparency: All types of branded content are designed to appear as though they are happenstance; this is a deceitful practice that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission hopes to discourage through disclosure rules, but there are powerful inducements to keep such matters opaque from the public. Dr. Hallahan worries that social media users might not realize how “likes” might not represent an honest endorsement from their friends, but the result of a purchase transaction, and that would foster distrust in an age sorely lacking in trust at all.

Confounding of measurement and evaluation: The idea that an objective third party — an editor — might decide to cover an organization’s news and therefore be relied upon to assess that organization’s claims, factually, is fairly essential to the concept of news media. If the lines are sufficiently blurred between paid and unpaid content, how can value be accurately measured outside of the financial result? Perhaps this is the point, that is, to reduce all communication activity to sales, and ignore all other tactics entirely. How do we measure effectiveness beyond the output level?

Dr. Hallahan’s thought-provoking research permits only deep questions — not answers. I’m grateful to have had the chance to hear it and discuss it.  Is this a threat? The marketers will say that if it is, it’s because PRs haven’t done a good enough job leveraging it in service of dollars and cents.

The biggest threat I see is that this all continues a reductivist argument that makes all communication into marketing. That’s what I see as the ultimate threat.

Thoughts?

 

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Feeding mind & soul at PR research conference

Monday, March 10th, 2014
Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Dr. Vincent Hazleton, Prof. Michele Ewing & Dr. Dean Kruckeberg

Many of my colleagues in public relations quail when I tell them I make a habit of attending the International PR Research Conference.  It’s an academic conference that features scholars presenting papers they have written (or soon will write) in 15 minute blocks. Half the time they explain the main points of the research, and the other half we listeners get to ask questions and make suggestions. That works great for me, and beginning in 2014, I’m now a member of the IPRRC Research Advisory Board, so will have a chance to be more involved.

For a lot of these papers/presentations — which are requirements for Ph.D.s and doctoral students — there isn’t a direct connection to practice. That doesn’t mean discussing them is not useful, and I admit readily to being enough of a geek that I appreciate the deep mental stretching that the more esoteric topics bring forth. Among the more usual questions I ask: “So what?” Most of the time not quite so bluntly (though one longtime friend of the conference, a practitioner who passed away last year, Jack Felton, felt no such reticence), and always with the desire only to understand the research’s impact on our practice.  We need more of the usual PRs to delve into this stuff, because the academics need our feedback, and we need to be there to give it!

One of my favorites was among the most academic. Denmark-based professors Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen of Aarhus University are exploring a general theory of intermediaries in PR. That’s trade unions, trade associations, the news media and others as stakeholders on their own account. Finn and Winni pose that there’s a trifecta of reputations at stake — the industry represented, the members of the intermediary organization, and the organization itself might be sharing reputation in a commons of sorts. Made my head hurt a little, but in a good way.

There were several other presentations that made a strong impression. Here’s the first few I took note of. 

Place

Dr. Shannon Bowen listens to Dr. Katie Place

Dr. Katie Place of Saint Louis University, presented on ethical decision-making in public relations. She is seeking to understand how professionals evaluate or reflect on their decisions. Dr. Place has started a qualitative study on the topic, and finds that there are few constants in process, with relying on one’s “gut” one of the few.  It’s a highly personal and rather eclectic mix, she finds, and that matches with much I’ve read on the topic.  We need more research on this, especially as PR Ethics is so often considered an oxymoron.

Doctoral student Arunima Krishna of Purdue University explored a “big 4” accounting firm’s unauthorized Facebook “Confessions” page, exploring whether the passion, vigor and dedication associated with highly engaged publics (groups of people) who are negative toward their organizations present particular challenges to our practice.  She posits that engagement — frequently assumed to be positive and desirable — might have a dark side. Stay tuned, and look for your organization’s Facebook Confessions page ASAP.

 

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, doctoral student

Holley Reeves, a doc student at University of Georgia, looked at corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as contributors to organization public relations activities. She conducted interviews with PR pros to determine what they thought of their org’s CSR, and sought to determine whether the CSR was primarily used to accomplish PR goals. It’s early, but the preliminary findings are encouraging for those who a) believe CSR is the right thing to do regardless of its business or PR value, and b) that CSR is no replacement for confronting and solving organizational problems and issues. 

There are more to review — look for another 3-4 in the next post, including the offering from my Kent State University colleague, Prof. Michele Ewing!

 

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A communicator’s manifesto for 2014

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

no_year_in_reviewNo predictions, no year-in-review. Instead, how about a statement of first principles? Can you dig it?

Resolved: Whether in internal communication, PR measurement or strategic communications, we will be fearless, ruled by the right thing to do rather than the facile, easy or merely expedient. Therefore:

  • As the internal experts in communication, we will have facts and data at our disposal to support our strategies and tactics. We will do research, ongoing measurement and evaluation to ensure that our activities are having the desired impact on business results. Because we care most about that, we won’t allow ourselves to be wedded to our tools — social, electronic, print, whatever. Instead, we will do as every other department in our organization must do: be judged by our impact and value. We will measure at the output, communication outcome and business results levels (output, outtake, outcome), and if we don’t know how to do so, we’ll educate ourselves.
  • We will not cede the public relations field to marketing, embracing the credo that while all marketing is communication, not all communication is marketing! Neither shall we use marketing metrics for non-marketing activities out of inertia, expediency or lack of interest. Nor will we by word, deed or omission allow social media to be subsumed solely into the “marketing mix,” advocating instead for a truly strategic approach to the use of social tools as well as all the other tools in our cabinet.
  • We will insist on transparency from our vendors, never settling for “black box” methods. We recognize the unique value our vendors may bring to the table, but we will need to understand how their many miracles in return on investment, value of Facebook likes, financial values in nonfinancial situations, etc., actually work in practice. We will compare notes and seek metrics beyond anecdotes.
  • We will develop SMART objectives — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — because performance against objectives is the most basic and appreciated mode of measurement for any communicator. It is these objectives — and the process of setting them — that lead us to our strategies and tactics. They give us purpose, drive, ambition and business life, a reason for being.
  • We will embrace the simple fact that we are business people — regardless of industry, specialty or education, we are business people first, using communication skills, tactics and strategies in support of business objectives. We therefore will be more than merely conversant in the language of business; we will employ it when we talk of what we do, who we are and the roles we play in our organizations.

These are weighty responsibilities, my friends. Are you up to the challenge?

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The simple pleasure of ‘Attenzi’

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

http://www.attenzi.com/If Philip Sheldrake‘s eBook, Attenzi — A Social Business Story, were a paperback novel, it would be a slender tome, perhaps similar to Who Moved My Cheese.  Like the legendary Spencer Johnson fable on change, Attenzi uses a fictional story to make a factual point. In this case, that social business (not just social media) is a revolution that should change how businesses sell, operate and succeed.

Sheldrake constructs the book almost as a diary, with Attenzi CEO Eli Appel as the narrator. Appel talks about taking the reins as leader, about the team and its strengths and weaknesses, and about his own fears and misgivings as he embraces social business. Attenzi is a kitchen appliance maker, a brand once dominant in the high-end sector that had started to slip.  Social represents an opportunity not to merely sell through a new channel, but to recast the relationships between Attenzi and its customers and other constituents.

In the process, Appel and his team learn what’s right and wrong with the company, how it stayed on its path in the face of a changing marketplace, and how a lack of innovation was threatening the firm.  Readers follow a set of appealing characters through the story, and arrive at a happy ending (albeit predictably) .

Aside from a couple of preachy, awkward discussions as the shades fall from the characters’ eyes, it’s a solid work that has a lot to say about perception of change, resistance to it, and the experimental nature of  innovation when it embraces the transparent, social, customer-up style of modern business.

It’s really hard to write dialogue for a business context. I’ve written two short plays for a client, and it’s a real challenge to include the insider language (whilst avoiding jargon where possible) and drive toward the points you’re trying to make. Sheldrake succeeds substantially; as I say, there are a couple of times where the two-person dialogue stretches credibility as natural speech, but that’s a miniature cavil for certain.

Appel (the Attenzi CEO) strikes a good balance between pushing for change and evaluating what has and hasn’t worked.  The leadership team doesn’t reflexively dismiss him (apparently not even privately; that would make for a good subplot in an expanded edition of the book).  Attenzi doesn’t have to deal with a crippling crisis in the midst of the renaissance.

I enjoyed the book because of its simple and even idealistic view that business can change by being less closed, less secretive. I liked that social wasn’t just media, just another extension of the marketing mix, beholden to the world of increasing impressions and required conversion.  Social for me is broader than that, the embodiment of what’s become my axiom and watchcry: “All marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing.”

Attenzi makes that point, creatively, succinctly.  Kudos, Mr. Sheldrake.

Now, go read the book and tell me what you think.

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On the balance sheet, it’s ‘goodwill’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

A fever dream of most communicators I know is that we could quantify in monetary terms the public relations/communications value to organizations. It inspires yearning, craving, shivering, salivating and panting — at least in a few communicators I’ve known.

The marketing folks love to lord it over their PR colleagues — X impressions equals Y prospects equals Z sales. We don’t apply that formula often, and I worry that if we concentrate too much on quantifying impact on sales, we wind up reducing our role by at least half if not more.  In the broadest sense, all communication functions are about impact on the business of the business, true, as we won’t sell as much with a bad reputation as we might with a good one.

The trouble is that looking for that direct formula can lead to discounting issues management, employee communications, social responsibility, community relations, and all other stuff that isn’t directly related to product/service PR.  This is why I embrace the term “integrated communications,” but reject the inclusion of the word “marketing” in between the two words.

What we need is a monetary proxy for reputation, and I wonder whether “goodwill” might be a worthy solution. Goodwill is, in a merger, the difference between book value and the price paid in the acquisition. It’s the value in real terms of the brand, the reputation the acquired company brings to the table, the potential sales represented by the customer base.  You might say that the intrinsic knowledge of the employees (as opposed to the explicit knowledge) has value in that construct too. Think of an industrial firm, such as Goodyear, with all the patents it owns, all the innovations it’s bringing to the table. Surely those are worth something in financial terms.

Improving reputation, even if it doesn’t draw an explicit path to revenue, should lead to an improvement in the overall value of the enterprise. The activity that brings about that improvement can be quantified in terms of impact through research, both objectively (in terms of behavioral factors such as recommendations), and subjectively (in terms of qualitative measures such as willingness to recommend.) We then could look for statistical linkages among those data.

OK, my academic friends can sharpen their red pencils, no doubt, as I’m grossly oversimplifying. But I’m fairly certain that there is something to this. What if we could document the reputational impact of influence?

Think with me…

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IABC Heritage conference is Oct. 14-16 – See you there!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The international conferences for both PRSA and IABC are epic gatherings. I attended several of them, but found the scale rather overwhelming, especially when trying to network. It seems like everyone is hustling to their next session, and there are few opportunities to connect with the same person across the days. That’s why I’m a big fan of the IABC Heritage Region conference – the scale is smaller and the ability to make personal connections better.

Besides, the quality of speakers is outstanding, the social aspects entertaining and this year’s conference is a mere two hours down the road from me in Pittsburgh. No cross-country flights, no rental cars, no tsuris. I’m a sponsor this year, and will have the honor of introducing a couple of speakers.

If you’ve wanted to shoot the breeze a bit on PR, measurement, internal comms, reputation, influence or anything else, come to the conference and find me. Hope to see you there.

Here are just a few of the sessions I’m looking forward to:

Andy Warhol: Marketing the Man and the Museum

Nicholas Chamber, Curator, Andy Warhol Museum

From Campbell’s soup cans to colorful portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol’s pop art celebrates the artistic expression, celebrity culture and ad-centric focus of the 1960s. As a renowned and often controversial artist, Warhol took the world of marketing to its limits in both his professional and personal life. The Andy Warhol Museum, which is the largest museum in the United State dedicated to a single artist, contains an extensive collection of Warhol’s art and archives. This session will take a closer look at Warhol’s early career in the advertising industry and the museum’s marketing efforts to engage with a diverse international audience about the artist’s life and work.

Best Practices in Engaging and Empowering Colleagues Through Social Media

Heather Young, Senior Manager, Corporate and Colleague Communications, Pfizer, Inc.

At the companies who do it best, no one person or department “owns” social media. Instead, they create advocates of their employees and train and empower them to speak on behalf of the company. This unique approach to social media requires hands on community management, policies that protect the company and its employees and a certain bravery and willingness to  accept risk. The payoff is an authentic, two-way, social media conversation that helps to positively shape and influence a company’s reputation. In this session, learn about these lessons through Pfizer’s Think Science Now program.

Setting Quantifiable Objectives: The Key to Proving PR Value

Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research

In every business case – whether the organization is large or small, for-profit or nonprofit, local or global – there is an objective. But the best objectives in the world aren’t good enough if they can’t be measured. Corporate communicators increasingly are being required to provide proof of real value in the programming they plan and implement. An effective public relations program is rooted in research, which is used to set objectives, develop strategy and design tactics then moves through program execution and evaluation. This session will take attendees through a proven process for setting objectives that are measurable as well as address how to communicate with the C-suite about the process.

The New World of Communication: How Social Media, Games and Behavioral Economics Have Rewritten the Rule Book

Adam Wootton, Director of Social Media and Games, Towers Watson

The session will explore the new tools available for communicators to use to engage their audience with a focus on behavioral economics, social media, games and game mechanics. Participants will learn why these new tools are important, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to talk to senior leaders about them. Easy steps to get started for each will be shown along with firsthand practical examples for use.

 

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The role of scale in social media is oversold

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

The next time I see an article saying that social media measurement is about followers, likes and comments/retweets, I’m going to scream loud enough to raise the dead. These are not business results.

Social media measurement takes place across a three-part continuum — outputs, outtakes (or communication outcomes) and business results. Measurement should cover all three parts, including followers, likes, comments and retweets, but we must not mistake those outputs for real business impact. When we focus on the outputs, we’re extrapolating impact and the potential for impact — not measuring impact itself. When we look at the middle part — outtakes — we get wrapped up in web traffic without closing the loop.

Ask yourself WHY you want followers/fans. What is it we want them to think, feel or do? Measure that! Performance against objectives!  It doesn’t have to be sales/revenue/retention, but it’s mighty helpful if it does. Don’t stop at measuring only the things you have direct control over. Connect the dots. Carry your outputs to business results. Don’t rely on mere correlation — track the different inputs that lead to the objectives you’ve set.

What does the headline of this post have to do with these past 179 words?

Followers have to be influenced by you to feel, think or do something that advances your business objectives. There’s some credible research that suggests there’s a plateau of influence, a point at which influence wanes as the network grows larger.  More on this later, but I implore you — there are no shortcuts to establishing the impact proposition of public relations/communications. I don’t think you’ll find it by counting the number of retweets and likes, however easy that might be.

More info for those of you who might read it:

Katona, Z., Zubcsek, P., & Sarvary, M. (2011). Network effects and personal influences: The diffusion of an online social network. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(3), 425-443. doi:10.1509/jmkr.48.3.425

Kitsak, M., Gallos, L., Havlin, S., Litjeros, F., Muchnik, L., Stanley, H., & Makse, H. (2010, November ). Identifying spreaders in complex networks. Nature Physics, 6. DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS1746 . Retrieved April 8, 2012, from http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1001/1001.5285v2.pdf

Satell, G. (2011, November 6). Exploding the influentials myth [Web log post]. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-tyranny-of-influentials/

http://www.instituteforpr.org/2010/06/the-barcelona-declaration-of-research-principles/

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Engagement as an ‘Objective’

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Gotta hit the bullseye (creative commons)

True or False: The point of social media for business is to engage with people.

That statement is being used as a club to pummel the reluctant into the social media world. Remember the glory days of the dawn of the World Wide Web?  Businesses needed Web sites because customers who weren’t on the Web now would be soon… Because people would look up your business on Yahoo! or Alta Vista or AOL to try and learn about you…Because it was so cool to be on the Web!

It took a while to get there, but now the idea that a business could be viable without a website is ludicrous. It may well turn out that way for social media too.  But back to the first sentence — there’s a defensible body of wisdom that says social media for businesses isn’t about direct selling (Southwest Airlines excluded, as well as other online businesses), it’s about engagement.

So how do we know if our audience/stakeholders is/are engaged?

It could be blog comments, Twitter @ replies and RTs, Facebook “likes” or any number of seemingly independent activities. But do those activities really constitute engagement in a meaningful way?

I surmise that there needs to be more independent research to answer that question. As well, I wonder whether engagement really matters to the business, which is the pregnant elephant in the living room in measurement circles. I’m most concerned with what happens as a result of engagement than of engagement itself.

But I am comfortable with the notion of engagement as a goal, a weigh station on the way to a business objective. To use the academic vernacular, it’s likely an outtake — a measurable step on the way to business results — rather than a business result of its own.  Though some folks have averred that those who engage with a brand are more likely to spend and spend more than those who do not, the research is self-serving — it’s coming from firms who have a vested interest.  Open up the methodology in that black box and let’s have the math types run it through a wringer!

In the meantime, go ahead with your plans to engage publics — just be sure that engagement is in service to something that matters to business results.

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