Natasha Kennedy used to develop balanced scorecards for the likes of Solo Cup Company and former telecom company Universal Access.
The balanced scorecard was first introduced in the 1990s. It is a way to measure the effectiveness of different corporate expenditures and departments against the strategic goals set by a company.
“Until about 2004, I spent a lot of time in company supply chains and thinking about how each department contributes to overall sales and expense savings,” says Kennedy, now global MD, research, analytics and measurement, FleishmanHillard. “Back then, PR didn’t really come up. Marketing was a contributor, but PR wasn’t a measurable factor.”
That is no longer the case. She asserts PR is more and more part of the revenue conversation and equation.
Kennedy points to the 2018 AMEC Awards, a global competition put on by the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication to celebrate excellence in research, measurement, and insights. She was one of the judges of this year’s 16th annual competition.
“Many of the entries elevated the discussion around the impact PR is having on the bottom line,” she says. “They were able to demonstrate and articulate its direct correlation on sales, reputation, and other important business goals.”
She is also seeing this evolution with clients at FleishmanHillard.
“As an industry, we’ve been late to understanding technology and its role as a strategic enabler for business. Now, it’s an exciting opportunity for PR professionals. We’re figuring out how to determine what is aligning with strategy versus what is noise by embracing tech.”
Study after study shows that consumers trust earned media, such as news articles, reviews, and influencer posts, more than other marcomms vehicles. Yet marketers have historically spent more money on paid and owned media because they can more conclusively attribute business value to them.
It’s not that there isn’t a lot data around earned media. After all, news articles now live online where it is so much easier to collect data, as well as influencer posts.
The challenge in PR has been that the path to conversion is so indirect and rarely immediate. However, a new wave of software solutions has made is possible to accurately quantify, track, and measure earned media, and see the results in a user-friendly interface.
This is unchartered, but ripe territory for earned media professionals. It allows PR to finally stand shoulder to shoulder with its paid counterparts.
“Historically, we haven’t been able to talk about PR successes in a direct way. We didn’t always know the demographics and firmographics of an earned media audience, only the number of people who did see an article. And so, it was all inferential data,” says Kaila Garrison, VP, marketing strategy and operations at Cision. “Now we can find out exactly who those people are and, more importantly, track over time what they do afterward.”
As an industry, we’ve been late to understanding technology and its role as a strategic enabler for business. Now, it’s an exciting opportunity for PR professionals. We’re figuring out how to determine what is aligning with strategy versus what is noise by embracing tech
Natasha Kennedy, FleishmanHillard
That is crucial in today’s C-suite, and “puts the comms person at the same table as colleagues such as the digital marketer,” says Garrison. “Earned media becomes not a source of soft metrics, but a data-driven discipline.”
To enable that kind of digital tracking on earned media, Cision has built proprietary technology, called Cision ID, part of a new measurement solution called Cision Impact. Using a pixel tag, it mimics some of the paths that paid media have taken in tracking. The media intelligence company has also partnered with the likes of Oracle to better understand the characteristics of the users interacting with earned content.
With so much new data at their fingerprints, clients can now optimize earned media in relation to other marcomms channels.
They can re-target with paid media audiences identified as having consumed an earned media placement.
Brands can also optimize breaking news strategies.
“One of our largest customers often breaks news on a paid site. We’re doing a test to extrapolate whether this is really the best place for them to start their story,” says Garrison. “We may discover that it would be better to get an influencer to break the story first, and then amplify the earned by wrapping paid or owned media around it.”
Asking the right questions
“Thanks to technology, we’re in a position to effectively track and measure the impacts and outcomes of our work,” says Anil Ranchod, deputy director of PR and comms at the Stroke Association (right) in London. “Measuring the success of a campaign is not just about the coverage or reach and frequency, but about demonstrating engagement and impact of the coverage, such as actions taken or increased awareness.”
The Stroke Association, a Cision client, ties PR initiatives to website visits, calls to its helpline, and direct business outcomes such as donations and volunteer sign-ups.
“We took a while to get there, but we now understand what metrics to measure and it’s about measuring your performance across all areas of your work,” says Ranchod.
Seth Bridges, cofounder, head of product at Rival IQ, a media analytics company devoted to owned social media, agrees the tools are getting better.
“But if you don’t have the right people and manpower, you’re not going to get to the same place as companies that are investing in talent to optimize PR spend,” says Bridges. “If I was selling software to someone who doesn’t have an analytical bone in their body, they are going to struggle with the analysis.”
Lauren O’Leary, senior associate director, APCO Worldwide, says it is also important communicators start asking different questions, given they have more access to data.
“There are many that can map tribes online, even very niche audiences. This means you can develop messaging that will be more impactful to your target, rather than just a mass communication to the entirety of the Internet on your social media channels,” says O’Leary. “A message to the right audience that resonates is more likely to meet your goals.”
Kennedy agrees that effective use of measurement software is reliant on talent. Internal leaders must push away from vanity metrics such as impressions and AVEs and embrace more accountability.
Fortunately, she says that is happening.
“Clients are asking the question we’ve been wanting them to ask for a long time – ‘What is the goal and objective of what we’re trying to do?’” says Kennedy. “It all starts with that.”