Will 2019 be the year PR and comms nails both top- and bottom-line metrics that the broader business cares most about? Where has the industry invested in measurement, and what areas still need attention? To get a current state of the union as it relates to earned media management, we put compelling questions to five comms leaders from both the agency and client side. The leaders:
- Linda Rutherford, SVP and chief comms officer, Southwest Airlines
- Mary Elizabeth Germaine, partner and MD, Ketchum
- Paul Cohen, SVP and head of global comms, Visa
- Bret Werner, president, MWWPR
- Jon Harris, SVP and chief communications officer, Conagra Brands
How has your earned media management evolved? Are comms teams measuring and reporting performance in terms that CMOs, CCOs, and CEOs understand and value?
Rutherford: If your message or brand is showing up in news media, then it is most definitely showing up in social media and through word of mouth. While earned media is important to measure and report on, it is best viewed in context with measurement from all media types because the lines between paid, owned, and earned media have blurred. Our measurement philosophy includes providing C-level execs with a holistic look at the comms landscape, which tells a more compelling story. We partner closely with our marketing teams to provide and classify the sentiment from customers, the general public, and informed publics.
Germaine: Most clients have customer insights or marketing analytics groups. If we can talk to those people and understand what they are doing, then we can determine the best inputs from a PR perspective to be included in that mix. Execs are used to seeing data reported in a certain way, so we look to plug into that rather than having to socialize something new. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. And frankly, when an internal team is already championing certain types of metrics, that partnership makes it easier for PR metrics to be accepted.
Cohen: Most management teams are very data focused, so PR for the sake of a good headline can’t be the end goal. Everything we do has to ladder back to driving the business or corporate reputation. We have to be able to show the efficacy of our strategy. It is critical that we use measurement and data to maintain the comms function as a key adviser to the company.
Werner: Measuring and analytics has reached a point where capturing the business impact of PR has never been easier. The earned media discipline didn’t always have the tools that we now do. You can measure anything with the right inputs and outputs.
Have brands invested enough in the right technology and talent to produce the data that fuels efforts to track earned media success to sales?
Cohen: We’ve been able to identify the tools that work best for us. In some cases, two or three different vendors have helped to create a bigger picture for us. We continuously look at technology options. We recently talked to management about our setup to address crisis and reputational issues, and the tools that we have and want. Management was willing to give us the investment we needed for those tools.
Werner: We have to understand what the right tools can do for us, but we need the right information to measure. If we want to measure brand health and sales, agencies need access to sales data. Otherwise, we’re just measuring outputs such as social posts. To really see how the business moves, we need the data. Clients are trying to provide it, but sometimes the marketing department is challenged. Only the sales team has it, or CRM has part of it, while comms doesn’t have any. If we live in an integrated world, we need integrated information.
PR for the sake of a good headline can’t be the end goal. Everything we do has to ladder back to driving the business or corporate reputation. We have to be able to show the efficacy of our strategy.
Paul Cohen, Visa
Harris: While there are more tools and technologies available than ever before, we need to hire more data scientists and analysts to help connect the findings with business results. Automated tools have helped measurement and reporting become faster and more readily available, but having the right people to properly interpret and activate those results is still the most important tool.
Rutherford: There are a plethora of tools and software available to track earned media. Most of them provide similar services, through keyword searches or company-set parameters, so it’s really important to determine what’s critical to your business strategy and find a tool that will help you track the metrics that define success. The human component is a must for data mining and analysis. The tools on the market today are great, but with the nature of online conversations, images, fake news, influencers, and so on, human analysis is a crucial component to telling the right story with the data.
What other challenges and opportunities do you see in measurement this year?
Harris: Although it’s become easier to measure influencer and social media activities, the impact of media relations is still difficult to quantify. In the age of fake news, where authenticity and credibility are increasingly questioned, driving tangible business results through media relations needs to be better quantified and reported.
“The human component is a must for data mining and analysis. The tools on the market today are great, but with the nature of online conversations, images, fake news, influencers, and so on, human analysis is a crucial component to telling the right story with the data.”
Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines
Rutherford: There is a big opportunity to use data for prescriptive and predictive purposes in comms. Some communicators are already doing this, but I don’t see this happening consistently across the industry. And to do it well, you need to invest in the talent and technology to make it happen. This involves true data scientists building algorithms and models that can be applied successfully. There are companies out there who are doing this as part of a subscription service, but it’s not cheap. It’s also time to arrive at a consistent set of standards and be more focused on outcomes to move beyond just measurement outputs.
Germaine: Communicators sometimes worry, “What if we hold ourselves accountable at a different level and don’t deliver results we are supposed to?” That is OK. At least you have the data to understand what was working, what wasn’t, and why. It becomes a prescriptive way to drive strategy moving forward.