The public relations industry has for a long time lobbied to be taken more seriously around the board table. While advertisers, sales and marketers have ruled the roost, PR and comms has been left to pick up the scraps off the table.
As an industry it really has nobody to blame but itself. While good people continue to thrive, the sector as a whole largely marks time, partly because it has never grasped the nettle of truly proving its worth.
The ability to prove the value of what communications does is crucial in building credibility. Yet PR time and again lets other disciplines run rings around it.
That shortcoming is important. It stops comms from performing at its best. And that has a very real impact on the reputation and business performance of clients, who miss out on the value that communications can bring to them.
It has a very real impact too on the communications industry’s ability to attract the top talent it needs to thrive, evolve and remain relevant.
It is important because no matter how badly measured communication has been, it can have a huge impact on business performance. Look at what happens to share prices when reputations collapse.
Look at the proportion of stock market value that is made up of “intangible” assets on the stock exchange. Look at the difference a motivated and committed work force makes to how a brand is delivered or business performs.
From another angle, look at how data has driven the growth of digital communications, despite the fact that the informed debate there is about how much of that data is fake.
Just think about that for a minute. Businesses would rather invest in online advertising, half of which is never seen by humans, than invest in communications. Communications simply doesn’t make a business case for itself.
In the explosion of data in the last five years of business life, the big breakthrough for communications evaluation has been (at times unfairly) to at least dent the authority of the advertising value equivalent (AVE). That’s all, pretty much. And a third of companies still use AVEs.
If communications want to be taken more seriously, it needs to start making the case. That case will start with the business objectives it is trying to support.
Of course the downside is that making that case may also consign much traditional PR activity to the rubbish heap. It would mean facing up to the fact that some things PR teams and agencies do really have no value and is not worth doing.
Proper evaluation would expose the weak more quickly and kill it more quickly. And that would be a good thing.
And that’s the point about evaluation, whether for communications or other better-measured marketing disciplines. It is meant to point to what works and what doesn’t. It is not simply there to look backwards. It helps do better in future.
It is supposed to improve the end product. To make communications more effective. To weed out the rubbish. To meet the business objectives. In doing so, ditching bad work is a good thing.
That’s why I’m delighted to be associated with The Measurement Practice. A group of real experts in evaluation and communications research, data integration, media analysis and insight, communications and strategy and analytics, data mining and technology.
Here is a group of people with the skills, rigour and independence to help communications show its true value.
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Guy Corbet (@GuyCorbet) is an independent communications consultant and an associate of The Measurement Practice which helps businesses and agencies better measure, understand and improve the value that communications delivers.