Friday, 19 February 2010

Measuring digital PR

The PRCA invited me to give a short presentation for one of its series of ‘Expert Briefings’ yesterday, this time on measuring digital, hosted by Ketchum Pleon. Up in the firing line with me were Fernando Rizo, head of digital at Ketchum Pleon, and Kristin Wadge, a director at Metrica. Although the three of us have quite varied clients, we all pretty much said the same core things:

  • Metrics have to have real meaning to the business: they must be things we can learn from, and feed back into the development / strategy process.

  • Online measurement must tie in to offline measurement. We set audience strategies ahead of channel strategies, and the ways to reach those audiences will be online and offline.

  • AVEs are completely meaningless in these days of digital communications and two-way engagement.

  • It is almost impossible to demonstrate a direct financial ROI for clients on their PR spend because of the difficulty in tracking action arising from PR. But, PR does have a clear business value which can be measured.

I was surprised at the reluctance of people to discuss the issue in a public forum (although I know sometimes I talk too quickly, which makes it hard for anyone to get a word in – the result of years working with Richard Houghton!). But a number of people did come up and ask questions after the event – these are the ones that dominated:

How do we pre define ROI? (ie what do you say to a client that says “If I spend 10k with you, how much will I get back?”)

Sadly, I don’t think we can pre-define financial ROI at all, in isolation from other marketing disciplines. We can do it in conjunction with others – Kristin talked about ‘econometrics’ that charts trends in sales / action against different marketing activity peaks (taking into account buying patterns such as seasonal trends, for example). She made the very good point that often this research is done with the ad and DM agencies, but PR just gets left out. Action: make sure PR is plugged into the research along with the other marketing disciplines.

I do think there are measurement criteria you can pre-define with clients. Set clear objectives, and set KPIs (not spurious ROI figures) against them. That might be reaching the right kind of audience (do some proper research into which media will influence buying decisions, rather than which will impress the CEO’s neighbours); and metrics against media placement and engagement within that audience.

What if your client’s product just isn’t very good? How do you manage social media response?

(Actually the problem was more precisely: “my boss has promised my client a social media programme for a product that I know people are going to hate”).

I think that digital is the death of spin. All the adjectives and shiny pictures in the world aren’t going to cover up that people just won’t buy rubbish. You won’t be able to manage the social media response; better to change the product, or turn down the client.

We need to give better advice to our clients – and this means either senior people having to do the work (that’ll stop them promising stuff that’s not deliverable) so they understand what will and won’t work; or letting the people who are going to do the work in on the planning conversations. Or walking away from clients who won’t listen.

There are some things we do for clients that we know lead to an increase in sales / activity etc. They have clear financial ROI – do we set targets for these and charge bonus payments for them?

There are always some ‘milestone’ articles that will see a short-term sales peak (for example). But those sorts of placements aren’t sustainable – if you know that getting into the Sun, or onto Reuters, has a positive financial impact on your client then of course you should target it – but you can’t achieve that every week.

Good PR is a combination of achieving these big goals that have short-term impact, and building gradual change in reputation / attitude / awareness to achieve a long-term goal. If you want to be bonused on the big hits, fine – but remember that you’ll focus more on that than on building the long-term stuff. So you may find you have a short-term client.

It was an interesting event, and many thanks to the PRCA for organising it. I wondered whether people were coming along looking for a magic metric to demonstrate ROI. But each client has different requirements – value means different things to different people. The key is setting clear objectives, and understanding what you can (and what you can’t) prove with measurement.

I’ll post the presentation points in more detail over the next few days. PRCA members will be able to access all three presentations from the PRCA site in due course.

No comments: