Every company has competition for resources, as it should. The CEO has lots of competing metrics to think about
Tom Noland, Humana
What if communications pros could provide metrics to the C-suite that unequivocally illustrate how a piece of content turned a customer target into a purchaser? Or how it delivered on another KPI vital to the company? Surely the comms department would get a bigger piece of the marketing budget, possibly even from the advertising side.
Tom Noland, SVP, corporate communications at health insurance provider Humana, says you better believe it.
“Every company has competition for resources, as it should. The CEO has lots of competing metrics to think about,” he adds. “And the resources are going to those areas where direct impact on the bottom line can be most precisely demonstrated.”
Therein lies a terrific case for PR to demonstrate the bottom-line value of its work – to first protect and then gain more budget. However, a survey done in partnership between PRWeek and PR software and services company Cision shows that PR pros are struggling to connect the dots between content and actual business results.
The survey polled CCOs, CMOs, SVPs, and even presidents on the client side from around the world. And 63% cited the inability to measure impact effectively as one of the three most difficult challenges they face.
This is a troublesome barrier to growth in PR. Comms departments are under increasing pressure to justify their existing spend, let alone get approval for budget increases. In fact, 65% of respondents said the tightening of budgets is one of their other top three challenges.
Content is king
The growth of digital comms such as social media, video, and podcasts has given PR pros more options for content creation. Sixty-six percent of pros ranked content creation as one of their three most important activities – with 32% ranking it as the most important activity.
On its news site, Humana features news stories, videos and other multimedia content. Some of the content celebrates how its employees are giving back and helping the customers and the communities it serves.
Noland says it is easy to see the strategic relationship between the content they are producing for the site and the company’s overarching goals. “We can see the close linkage between our company’s strategy and the messaging we use both internally and externally. But admittedly it is difficult to measure that relationship,” he says.
While solving the measurement puzzle has been an issue for the PR profession for decades now, Noland says “there has been progress. We’ve gone way beyond measuring impressions and clicks on social media.”
“The next generation of measurement needs to do is find a way to directly relate [earned media coverage] to bottom-line growth,” says Noland.
“I, as well as many others in PR, are pushing providers hard for measurement that is more sophisticated,” he adds.
Because more precise metrics would mean more budget and more content, pros like Noland could test and optimize. He is confident the industry will get there. “I see a bright future ahead,” says Noland. “There are a lot of smart people working on measurement and refining it.”
Areas to improve
An overwhelming three-quarters of survey respondents feel the comms industry can do a better job of measuring and proving its impact on business objectives. It is worth noting that 22% feel comms doesn’t do a good job at all.
An improvement could help communicators figure out what content is delivering the biggest bang for their buck. When it comes to content, over half of respondents (52%) said their biggest challenge is determining what content is most effective.
United Technologies invests in a lot of content creation to help position itself as a leader in providing industries like aviation, construction, and food supply with sustainable solutions and problem solving. This is a leadership stance it has been cultivating not only with clients and potential clients, but also employees and partners.
Earlier this year, United Technologies launched a podcast series, Race to 9 Billion, with the help of the crew behind NPR’s weekly show, Living on Earth. The host of the series is United Technologies’ chief sustainability officer John Mandyck, who sees the podcast as an effective way to share content in a deeper way. The podcast isn’t a one-off; Race to 9 Billion is about to launch its second six-episode season. (According to the survey, 86% of respondents agreed that sustained content programs drive better business results than one-off efforts).
But Mandyck is frustrated by the lack of metrics. For starters, the podcast is available on iTunes, “but Apple doesn’t provide data on podcasts,” he laments.
United Technologies also hosts the podcast on an owned site dedicated to the subject of sustainability. Even here, he says there is a lack of measurement technology that could, for instance, find out how much of the podcast viewers are watching the entire podcast, when they’re jumping out, as well as what action they took after watching the podcast.
“We have seen a 200% increase in traffic since we launched the podcast on our website. That is one way we can measure the success,” he says. “But we hope that they’re listening to the podcast and then also taking a look at the full breadth of the sustainability work we do.”
United Technologies is not alone in facing limitations to metrics beyond total audience numbers. Survey respondents said they have a strong sense of how many people read brand content (62% replied in the affirmative), and how many people clicked on a link within the content (79%).
After that, however, the data gets considerably thinner linking specific consumer activity to content. Most (58% of respondents) don’t have a good sense of what people do after they consume the brand’s content. Nor do most (55%) know whether there was any digital or real-world behavior driven from the content.
Michael Marinello joined Turner Broadcasting as SVP, corporate comms a year ago. He has been tasked with developing a corporate narrative for the company and helping to connect all of Turner’s various media properties – including CNN, TBS, and Cartoon Network – together.
He says the company has just started beefing up its corporate website and has launched social media channels including Twitter and Instagram. In creating content for those channels, he says his department is working very closely with other divisions such as advertising, sales, and HR.
“Communications’ main goal is to create great content for sales and recruitment, and so comms needs to learn to be a great partner with other departments in the organization,” Marinello explains. He says this collaboration should help the company as it starts to more intensely measure direct outcomes from the content they’ve been building.
Budgeting for results
In the past, comms heads have been criticized for failing to devote enough of their budget to measurement. And PR agency pros for not pushing their clients hard enough on the importance of that budget piece.
But the PRWeek-Cision survey suggests that may be changing. Many marketers appear to be investing a good portion of their budgets to the collection of data in an effort to better understand the impact of their comms programs.
“We do budget for measurement every year,” says Tom Noland, SVP, corporate communications at Humana. While he didn’t want to disclose the exact amount, he says they make sure it “is sufficient.”
Thirty-six percent of survey respondents devote between 10% and 20% of their overall budget to measurement. A further 47% spend between 1% and 10%. Many PR pros suggest 10% is a healthy benchmark.
PRWeek partnered with Cision on this survey, which was sent via email to comms and marketing pros around the world. A total of 425 professionals completed the online survey, conducted by Bovitz, between July 31 and August 23, 2017. To view the full report, click here!