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Does business truly value PR?

It’s good news that brands realise their reputations are worth a great deal these days, and therefore better appreciate the value of PR. According to The Economics of Reputation research by The PRCA, in conjunction with YouGov, 87 per cent of PR and comms professionals say their clients’ CEO is supportive of PR. Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, says: “Brands have finally woken up to the fact that the most valuable asset they own is their reputation. That it pushes and pulls customers; that it inflates or crushes share price. Why? Because we've seen what happens when reputation is ignored – BP, Thomas Cook, Volkswagen. CEOs have seen their departing opposite numbers who've neglected their company's reputation. And they don't want to join their ranks at the local headhunters.”

PR may be getting greater recognition, but many believe brand owners still fail to acknowledge its full value. Remy Le Fevre, head of consumer at agency Diffusion PR, says there are two reasons for this: “One, there are brands out there that aren’t adapting quick enough to the changes in media and consumer behaviour, so they’re not seeing the evolving authority of PR in the marketing mix; two, no matter how many measurement methods we explore, PR still can’t be quantified with the data many other disciplines can be – so justification of its value has a stronger bias towards opinion than fact.

“An example of point one is the ever-growing need for brands to utilise social media ‘stars’ to engage consumers. The investment made in these partnerships tends to be assigned to media agencies, but before these influencers rose to stardom, PR professionals were already formulating strong relationships – putting them in lead position for co-creating meaningful engagement programmes (and therefore, indicating where brands should allocate the budget).

“On point two, effective metrics for PR have not yet been cracked with many brands still focused on AVE and reach. Both serve a purpose to key stakeholders and so many brands require their use so PR consultants agree to continue using them. What we need to crack is an approved measurement system towards return on experience (which can be applied to all disciplines) and how that impacts consumer behaviour – as factually viable as possible. At Diffusion we are already moving towards at ‘ROE’ model with willing clients, which they are finding valuable in assessing campaigns – particularly when ideas sit across paid and earned with multiple agency disciplines involved.”

Do brands know the value of PR?

Matt Battersby, managing director of Hill+Knowlton’s team H+K Smarter:

“Businesses do value PR, but what they need and want from it is changing. Organisations want to create communications that have a tangible and measurable impact on audience behaviour.

“As an industry, we’ve moved on from the days where our primary expertise was knowledge of how the media works. In the past, if a business or organisation wanted to communicate with its audiences, then the media was often the most effective way to do so. Knowing how the media worked was therefore where PR professionals added significant value.

“As more of our communications become direct to audience, clients now expect us to be experts in how people think, behave and make decisions. They also want more evidence that communications campaigns will truly influence their target audiences. Combining behavioural science principles with new research methods and the increasingly accessible data into audience behaviour provides a real opportunity to create communications based on evidence rather than gut.”

Alex Warren, account manager at PR agency Wildfire:

“For all our talk of measurement, conversions and direct sales leads, I personally believe that the vast majority of businesses still don’t understand the true value of public relations. In an effort to ditch its ‘fluffy’ creative image, the PR industry has grown obsessed with justifying its role in purely quantitative terms. To the new generation of PR professionals, if something can’t be quantified on Google Analytics, then it simply isn’t worth doing.

“This completely ignores the qualitative aspects of PR’s role.

“PR deals in both tangible metrics, such as downloads and leads, and intangible assets such as reputations, branding and thought leadership. Such intangible ideas may have fallen out of favour in the age of analytics, but that does not reduce their value. Google’s brand name may not be a tangible idea, but it still accounts for 80% of the company’s market valuation. That’s £70bn invested in what is essentially an intangible asset. How’s that for scientific?

“As PR professionals we shouldn’t be afraid to justify our work in these abstract terms. By trying to rebrand all aspects of PR as some tangible science, we are further undermining the value of our more qualitative results. As such, is it any wonder that businesses are unsure of the value of what we do?”

Teresa Horscroft, owner of agency Eureka Communications:

“The value of PR has never been more understood even if it’s just as hard to put a tangible number around it. Nearly every business manager knows what PR is (a real change from the situation 25 years ago) and even if they don’t know how to enable it they know that they need to and that if they use it smartly it will be cheaper and more effective than advertising.”

Victorial Ruffy, founder of PR agency Little Red Rooster:

The more established the brand, the more likely it is to appreciate the value of PR. PR when handled correctly, and through the right media channels, drives sales. A lot of brands are understandingly weary of puff PR campaigns that don’t deliver measurable return to the bottom line, but many more are realising that strong product PR can help drive sales and that it is a hugely cost effective way to do so. It all boils down to whether your PR campaign is crafted to make people buy the product. Having said that, I have lost count at the number of times we are asked for our PR retainer to pay for itself in sales. This is normally a question asked by start-ups and the first problem with it is that so many other factors contribute to a sale: pricing, marketing, packaging, retailers, websites and of course the product! If one of these areas is weak then great PR won’t fix it.”

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