Opinion: PR’s contribution to the bottom line off the balance sheet

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VALUE is created when an organisation does more than turn a profit on day-to-day sales, it’s when the organisation is regarded as more valuable than the sum of its parts, writes Rachel Roberts.

To create value entrepreneurs and CEOs have to have a twin track eye on performance – what they need to do right now tactically to turn a profit, while also thinking about putting the strategic building blocks in place today, to create value for the future.

Creating value in a business provides the ultimate ROI – it’s when investors are prepared to pay more to buy into an organisation at a greater level than the company is worth on paper.

Smart CEO’s recognise that public relations is an integral part of fuelling value and PR practitioners are required to think on the same terms as CEOs. Tactically, PR professionals are at the top of the speed dial to help organisations respond to operational communications challenges, but our strategic mindset will also be thinking ahead to help organisations develop valuable relationships of influence.

Creating relationships, and building champions, advocates and fans for organisations creates value for companies. If the organisation continues to deliver on its promise to these powerful agents of advocacy, the latent and lasting value to organisations is huge. This is where the value lies for companies – these are the customers that continue to buy and be positive reputational influencers – even when the ads stop rolling.

CEOs are maintaining their commitment to the long term, lasting brand and value benefit of PR, despite working in a world of instant data gratification.

In a race between paid media and the earned media value secured through PR, the hare like pace of paid media will always generate sales fastest. The results will appear on the P&L overnight. Yet, when paid media takes a break the results can drop off a cliff, while those earned media champions that PR has fueled will continue to deliver positive reputational benefit. 

While CEOs want to understand which levers in the business are most effectively delivering ROI, demonstrating hard data around the value created by PR is not always clear cut.

PR professionals now have a proliferation of data to demonstrate tactical impact. We can evaluate message delivery, clicks to websites, engagement and call to tactical actions. However, providing data to demonstrate how we create long term value and ROI is difficult. We wring our hands as a profession, grappling with challenge while over in the private equity market investors are comfortable placing extraordinary values on pre-trading unicorn businesses based on pure market potential and little evidential data.

Grasping at a number to prove the strategic value of PR can be disingenuous, and using inaccurate data is a sure fire way to undermine confidence in continued investment from the C-suite. A wealth of data exists to demonstrate tactical initiatives, but there are very few scenarios where PR has been deployed within a vacuum. In the world of integrated communications, collateral developed strategically through PR to secure earned media exposure is also used alongside paid, shared and owned media. Data needs to represent the whole communications systems impact PR has on an organisation and the associated value created.

I advocate PR professionals to ensure boardroom counsel is framed using the Barcelona Principles 3.0 which centre on seven globally recognised principles to demonstrate the whole impact of PR.

The Barcelona Principles 3.0

  1. Setting goals is an absolute prerequisite to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation.
  2. Measurement and evaluation should identify outputs, outcomes, and potential impact.
  3. Outcomes and impact should be identified for stakeholders, society, and the organisation.
  4. Communication measurement and evaluation should include both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
  5. AVEs are not the value of communication.
  6. Holistic communication measurement and evaluation includes all relevant online and offline channels.
  7. Communication measurement and evaluation are rooted in integrity and transparency to drive learning and insights.

Source: AMEC

Our job as PR professionals is to counsel CEOs that PR pays off for organisations in the long term and to avoid falling into the trap of using data to compare the performance of apples and pears, or indeed paid media versus earned media. Chartered public relations professionals are uniquely qualified to offer this strategic consultancy – that’s why the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Chartership assessment process specifically includes business strategy alongside leadership and ethics as the core elements of professional competency.

To create value, we need to think strategically. To prove value, let’s not fall into the trap of looking at tactical numbers that take our temperature right now. We need to employ a whole systems approach coupled with qualified consultancy to enable organisations to reap the value tomorrow from how we strategically use public relations today.  

Rachel Roberts is president of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and founder and CEO of independent PR consultancy spottydog communications. Roberts’ professional capability as a chartered PR consultant is coupled with over 20 years of industry experience working with plc, private sector, charity and public sector clients.