I have worked in PR my whole career. In college, I held a position at Ogilvy PR, and after graduating, I formed my own firm. So I have spent considerable time in the industry on both the business development and account management sides.
And along the way, the biggest pain point I've observed plaguing public relations is the dearth of KPIs, metrics and analytics to drive campaigns and inform smart decision-making and iteration. The development of the Barcelona Principles is a good starting point, but traditional PR must become more data focused to yield better results and compete against other marketing disciplines.
Marketing as a whole is data-driven
With the explosion of digital marketing this past decade, chief marketing officers have become exposed to tremendous troves of data and are taking advantage of the information available to them.
Between Google Analytics and hundreds of other marketing intelligence and analytics dashboards, companies can now get tremendously drilled-down valuable insights as to where their dollars are most effective, which demographics are most interested and more.
Obtaining customers via digital marketing is a dollars-and-cents (sense) science. Anyone can easily tie marketing events to outcomes and shift efforts toward what is working best.
The traditional PR discipline, on the other hand is much more qualitatively driven. It might be considered more of an art than a science, and it lacks quantitative ROI measurement. While there is a “magic factor” to getting a cover story in the New York Times or Forbes -- which can change the trajectory of a business and is hard to quantify in terms of exact impact -- PR professionals can and must think of creative ways to measure outcomes in a more quantitative way.
Learn from past PR outcomes to predict future ones
I believe it's irresponsible for a PR professional to try to quantitatively measure ROI from a great story or collection of stories secured in the days, weeks or even months following a publication date (or dates). Why? Even a year, or even two or three years, after a great Wall Street Journal story published about company X, a potential customer, investor, hire or other stakeholder might come across that article, be impressed and take action. This could lead to a positive outcome long after the article actually appeared.
I believe the solution is to look at past outcomes in the aggregate, which can inform what may be expected as a result of the specific PR activities performed.
Those expectations should be communicated to the client so that when a decision is made regarding whether to spend on traditional PR versus SEO or digital ads, data is available that makes an argument for why dollars should go toward the former.
Leverage other data sources
Additional data sources, such as clients' site traffic, should be leveraged in order to paint a broader picture of business outcomes resulting from specific PR activities.
Bringing quantitative measurement and prediction of outcomes to traditional PR will grow transparency and trust between agencies and clients, and inform better decision-making and, ultimately, results. To compete in today’s data-driven world, the traditional PR industry must move forward in its ability to measure and analyze outcomes as a result of PR.