PR success isn’t based on coverage achieved, it’s based on achieving measurable objectives

Why do some businesses and PR practitioners still think a PR objective is to achieve coverage? I feel like we should have moved on from this a good few years ago. Sadly not.

I would have thought it was widely recognised that public relations practitioners have a ‘duty’ to educate their clients before working with them. In fact, if you miss the ‘understanding’ chat, you may be reading from different pages.

Practitioners, whether they are the best at achieving coverage and have fantastic contacts, cannot demonstrate the value they bring to business on that alone. Why? A number of reasons. By the way, this is not new!

On my PR travels

While I was on a trip to London last year, I met with a number of PR agencies to catch up. We chatted about evolving skills, membership organisations, #PRFest and current challenges in the industry.

I was surprised to hear from one agency that they “just deliver what the client wants”. Apparently with bigger brands it’s easier that way. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.

I agree in part with this as the client is commissioning your services and paying for them, but equally, it’s our responsibility as the experts to develop strategies and present opportunities which underpin the purpose of the organisation. If, for example, the client asks for coverage, then I’d be asking “why”? There must be a reason why they think coverage is required.

The brief

Firstly, if the client says the brief is to “get coverage” or you propose to “get coverage” to raise awareness of their products/services on offer, how will you demonstrate the impact your work has?

Secondly, even if you were to achieve masses of coverage in every national newspaper and magazine and broadcast station, how will you measure the impact of the coverage?

PR coverage, Paul Smith exhibition, by Aura PR

Did you see the coverage I got for the Hello, My Name is Paul Smith exhibition?!

What about the impact?

Coverage is simply an outcome of your hard work, creating outputs. The main thing you’ve missed, IMPACT.

You can look at all the outcomes of your work, for example, you might have received feedback from a survey and you’ve got lots of juicy insights to review, but that’s not looking at the impact on the business. The impact will be when you analyse the feedback, use this to inform a strategy and then measure the impact of the new strategy.

See where I’m going with this?

I work a lot in corporate reputation management, stakeholder engagement and crisis communication. I have a slightly different approach to the above as my objectives aren’t about raising awareness of products and services necessarily, but it does all come back to reputation. It all starts with objectives. What is it the client is trying to achieve for the business? What does the business plan say? From there, you create the public relations and communication objectives, from there you devise a relevant and timely strategy and from there, you develop a tactical plan, which delivers the strategy.

Evaluation – starts at the beginning

What did I not mention? The EVALUATION. Evaluation starts at the beginning, not the end. In order to effectively measure and evaluate the work you do, in turn demonstrating the value of your work and the investment the client has made, you need to set real SMART objectives.

Once you’ve set objectives, you need to think of how you will know if you’ve reached them. The next part is setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are indicators of the direction of travel towards achieving objectives. KPIs need to be monitored regularly. If you’re not moving in the right direction, it’s time to review the strategy you set and find out what’s not working and why.

Now, the final part, when you’ve done an awesome job and come to evaluate your work. How are you evaluating? How are you presenting this to the client?

I’ve been told by a number of clients in recent years that they have been disappointed with the poor level of evaluation they have been presented with in the past by PR agencies and practitioners. In fact, some don’t even get evaluation reports! Why? Because clients have simply been given a mound of outcomes and they have no clue what it means.

Always discuss evaluation with the client

business planning - starts with thinking about evaluationIf you use the AMEC integrated evaluation framework from the start, during and at the end, you’ll end up with a more professional, valuable and real picture of what you’ve done and achieved and importantly, the impact it has had.

The online system follows the PESO model and it’s still not perfect, but it’s amazing to have something to follow, to keep you right and to have a meaningful report at the end of it.

So whilst it’s lovely to get coverage, it massages your ego and the client’s, you’re not doing yourself, your client or our entire industry any favours by presenting coverage as a means of evaluation.

I’d urge you to spend time learning how to do PR the modern way, the right way. We no longer accept AVEs as a way of evaluation (they tell you nothing), outcomes are good to know, but what we really need to demonstrate is the impact of our work on our client’s businesses and organisations.

Thanks for reading my post. What do you think? Are you ace at evaluating or do you need some coaching in effective evaluation? If you or your team need some training, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Equally, if you’re on the client side and have been disappointed by previous consultants or agencies, you now know what you should be getting in your evaluation report.