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The science behind the art: Making the business case for PR

Mark Weiner, Cision

With all the advancements at our disposal, the absence of PR research and evaluation is motivated more by unwillingness than inability

Mark Weiner, Cision


Despite advances in technology and new methods for making the business case for the PR discipline, comms pros continue to struggle with demonstrating value and generating a positive return on investment.

It’s certainly possible you face the same dilemma. If so, here’s good news: For those who embrace the challenge fully, the answer to PR’s age-old problem is more accessible than ever before.

Everyone has a suite of tools these days. Everyone has data. Now we must consider how we manage the technology and apply the data.

We are all continuously working to bolster the power of our PR programs and demonstrate their impact on business outcomes. However, before we drill too deep, an observation:

Proving value and quantifying ROI are not the same. Though many of us use the two interchangeably, we undermine the power of PR when we do so.

With that as a foundation, consider the following.

  • PR value is subjective. Because values toward PR change from company to company – or even from person to person in the same organization – you must know the values, perceptions, and preferences of those executives/clients who evaluate PR performance – and then exceed them. Make sure the value equation in your company is reasonable, measurable, and meaningful. It’s also crucial you have alignment with the rest of the leadership team on what defines success.
  • PR’s ROI is a quantitative financial figure denoting money generated and saved as a result of a company’s investment in PR.

Delving deeper into the latter point, let’s examine these three factors.

PR’s impact on sales

The most alluring of all PR ROI measures. Comms pros apply attribution analysis to connect earned media to stages within the sales funnel – from awareness to consideration to purchase. More than ever before, practitioners can show the degree to which PR drives volume and revenue by story, campaign, or media outlet. The better your PR performs, the more your PR contributes to top-line achievement. The greater the number, the better.

PR’s efficiency

The most accessible of all PR ROI metrics. Professionals quantify the degree to which one delivers better results for less and with less. Simple metrics allow us to divide a campaign budget by the number of positive earned media placements and key messages delivered to quantify productivity and proficiency. As your PR efficiency improves, more of your savings flow to the bottom line. In this case, the lower the ratio, the better.

Avoiding catastrophic cost

The most impactful of all PR ROI metrics. Communicators use scenario analysis of the past crises of similar companies and brands to understand the potential impact of a disaster averted or mitigated. By analyzing historical crisis situations, you can draw parallels to approximate the latent effects the crisis might have had on stock price and market capitalization if it were to realize its full effect. In this case, the retention of market cap could amount to millions or even billions, depending on the size of the brand involved.

For years, PR’s most vexing challenge was how to best quantify its impact. With a firm understanding of “the science supporting the art,” we must question the reluctance of those who say it’s impossible to make the business case for PR. With all the advancements at our disposal, the absence of PR research and evaluation is motivated more by unwillingness than inability.

Mark Weiner is chief insights officer for Cision. He is also a member of the Arthur W. Page Society and sits on the board of directors at the Institute for Public Relations, where he chairs the Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.


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