Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

The Pandora's Box In Measuring The Value Of PR

Posted by Tom Foremski - July 30, 2009

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This is a great time to be in PR. That's what Jason Mandell from Launchsquad said in a recent guest post on SVW, and that's also the view of Emilio Robles, over at Ogilvy blog Tech PR Nibbles.

I agree. I also think it's a great time to be in media. But PR hasn't yet had to deal with the gut wrenching changes that media has had to deal with as business models change. My friends in PR tell me they can see the changes therefore they will be able to deal with it all and prosper.

I'm not so sure. Changes are underway in PR and they are not pretty. For example, the opportunities offered by social media are not well recognized by clients. There is a perception that social media is free yet it's more expensive than traditional PR.

I like to remind people that disruptive technologies disrupt. We are dealing with disruptive media (PR) technologies. If you are in the path of a disruptive technology you will likely slam into that train-wreck up ahead -- even if you can see it. That's why I just nod when people tell me that they can what's ahead and can change fast enough that it won't be a problem.

Social Media Metrics = PR ROI = More $$

One key theme that's part of the changes in the PR world is the desire to measure the effectiveness of PR. There is belief that it's possible to use a variety of tools to measure PR and thus create an ROI. And that once you do this and compare that ROI number to other marketing spends PR will show itself to be the best value around and therefore more business will be generated.

Emilio Robles writes: Tech PR Nibbles* » Now is a great time to be in PR

Unlike traditional media, social media metrics provide a fantastic opportunity to highlight PR ROI, if done correctly. Linking back a PR-specific program to traffic, or eyeballs or community conversations can be easier (and cheaper) than the more traditional qual and quant analyses of print and broadcast media. There are powerful online tools that allow you to do this and even automate the reporting.

All in all, now is a great time to be in PR.

Open carefully...

But be careful what you wish for this is a Pandora's box. With social media metrics you have to agree on what those numbers should be. What is an acceptable number of YouTube views for that "viral" video you made? What is the value of those 10 re-tweets? How many pageviews is great?

The bigger problem is that those numbers are going to become more difficult to reach because the noise level in the mediasphere is so much greater than ever before and it's going to get louder. PR firms hoping to charge clients based on their metrics will get into trouble because those metrics will begin showing a decline -- no matter how good the work -- because of all the new media being created and the pressure on people's attention.

Figuring out where PR spending is wasted

It's similar to traditional media. Advertisers always knew they were wasting half of their spending but didn't know where. Now, with online ad metrics, advertisers know exactly what isn't working and they can pull those ads.

Traditional media has suffered greatly in the online world because of advertising metrics. The half of the ad money that was being "wasted" was subsidizing journalism and other news services.

Similarly, PR metrics will show clients where their money is being wasted. And that's going to hurt. But it's too late to close Pandora's box and PR firms will have to play by these new rules.

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