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Communicating Public Relations' Value

Business Value and Public Good are Essence of PR Today

When someone asks, “What do you do for a living?” can you explain it clearly and concisely? Are you frustrated by references that equate public relations to publicity? Do you correct those who refer to our craft as spin, our professionals as flacks, and our currency as misrepresentation and disinformation?

Here are some message points that will help begin the process of changing some entrenched attitudes and perceptions:

  • Public relations is more than managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics. It is a communications discipline that engages and informs key audiences, builds important relationships and brings vital information back into an organization for analysis and action. It has real, measurable impact on the achievement of strategic organizational goals.
  • Public relations and publicity are not synonymous; publicity is a small subset and specialized discipline within public relations, often practiced by dedicated firms who may or may not possess broader strategic communications capabilities.
  • Public relations professionals have a special obligation to practice their craft ethically, with the highest standards of truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. The PRSA Code of Ethics provides a practical set of standards to follow in this regard.
  • Public relations has served immeasurable public good. It has changed attitudes and behaviors toward some of the world’s most pressing social issues, from breast cancer awareness to drinking and driving to smoking and obesity. The public relations industry also has prevented consumer injury and illness, raised awareness of products that have improved our quality of life, advanced worthwhile causes and provided pro-bono services for institutions that needed public relations assistance but could not afford it.

For additional help communicating with your clients or senior management about the value and benefits of public relations, please browse the resources below.

Convincing the CEO
Communicating the Value of Public Relations
The Business Value of Public Relations and Social Media
Public Relations' Advantages vs. Other Marketing and Communications Vehicles 

Convincing the CEO

Grates, Gary F. Six Questions: What Every CEO Should Expect From PR Counsel, Public Relations Strategist, Fall 2006.

According to Grates, the CEO of a corporation should require public relations counsel to tell the company's story and plans, keep track of the stakeholders' opinions, identify patterns of media coverage, assess the attitudes of the public towards policy, support consensus-building among senior leadership, and understand the company's products, services, manufacturing/distribution methods, marketing platform and business strategy.

Mattia, Thomas. Navigating the C-Suite - How Do You Become the CEO’s Trusted Adviser?, Public Relations Strategist, Winter 2006.

Mattia details what a chief communications officer (CCO) must do to become the trusted adviser to the office of the chairman or CEO. This includes developing a solid point of view, using communications skills to advance your team and the company and turning crises into leadership opportunities.

Tsang, You Mon. Selling Public Relations to the CFO and Other Executives, Public Relations Strategist, Winter 2005.

To move from perceived to actual value, public relations have to show a direct correlation to corporate objectives, or at least a dotted line to corporate revenue. There are steps that can help to quantify that relationship in a way the CFO will find appealing.  Simply defining and quantifying awareness is a move in the right direction. By providing market intelligence, not just results, the public relations practitioner can become a strategic source of information for executives to approach in order to make more informed business decisions.

Gonring, Matthew P. Making Public Relations Indispensable to the CEO, Public Relations Strategist, Summer 2004.

Gonring believes the appreciation that CEOs have towards reputation management provides an opportunity for public relations professionals to demonstrate the sometimes intangible values provided by communications programs and shares suggestions for how counselors can increase the value of the public relations function as part of strategic planning initiatives.

Richter, Lisa, and Robert Steen. Getting Senior Management Buy-in for Public Relations Return on Investment, Public Relations Strategist, Fall 2003.

Being able to assess the return of investment of any corporate program is a responsible, even mandatory, objective for an effective manager. Several steps that can help sell an executive on the importance of public relations return on investment as an essential element of every well-conceived public relations strategy are also presented.


Communicating the Value of Public Relations

Beardsley, John. Communicating the Value of Public Relations, Public Relations Strategist, Spring 2004.

Beardsley claims that organizations that reduce or eliminate their communicative activities, particularly their public relations programs, are in danger of being overlooked and eventually disregarded. The inherent value of public relations is less palpable than advertising and a good deal more difficult to explain. However, communications programs can be tied into business objectives such as making the public aware of products or services offered and by providing a context for news that alters the tone of discourse. Failing to communicate by not having public relations programs in place has consequences of value as well.

Gaschen, Dennis J. PR Leaders Stand Up for the Profession in Los Angeles, Public Relations Tactics, July 2004.

A roundtable from the Los Angeles public relations agency community gathered to address two questions: “What can we do to restore an industry image tarnished by ethical violation accusations and advocate for the profession?” and “How can we assist efforts to communicate the value of public relations to sometimes skeptical clients?” The group left the meeting with eight action items, and, as many said, a new appreciation of the profession.

Mitroff, Ian, Gerald Swerling and Jennifer Floto. Study Proves Value of Public Relations and Finds Self-Doubt Within the ProfessionPublic Relations Strategist, Winter 2003.

Findings from the 2003 USC Annenberg Strategic Communications and Public Relations Center Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) Study included:

  • The larger the company, the stronger top management’s perception of public relations’ contribution to organizational success. 
  • The more public relations people on staff, the larger the number of public relations agencies used.
  • The most frequently used method to evaluate public relations’s contribution to an organization’s success is its "influence on corporate reputation."
  • The article also identifies emerging public relations best practices.


The Business Value of Public Relations and Social Media

Building a Buzz in Social Media Ahead of Traditional Marketing, The New York Times, June 22, 2011.

Exploring the evolution of the marketing of Mentos mints in the U.S., New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott details how its parent company, Perfetti Van Melle, has gone from an advertising-first, communications-second mindset to one in which it builds interest in new product launches via social media and digital communications, with traditional advertising being used after strong brand affinity has been established via social media.

Consumers Consider Brands' Ethics When Shopping, According to Survey, Marketing, July 28, 2011

Citing a survey of 1,000 consumers by U.K.-based marketing agency 23red, Marketing magazine noted that 91 percent said “the way a company behaves towards its customers and communities was influential when making a purchase.” The survey also found that 74 percent of consumers would like brands to better communicate their values before they make a purchasing decision.

Furthermore, Marketing noted that 6 out of 10 consumers said that awareness of a company’s ethics affected their decision-making.

How Earned Media Boosts the Branding Effects of Paid Ads, eMarketer, June 28, 2011

Citing a study by Synaptic Digital and Kantar Video, research marketing publisher eMarketer noted the following regarding the value of earned media, which has traditionally been one of public relations' core areas of expertise:

"Earned media [is] more powerful than brand creative or paid advertising at raising brand awareness, with a lift of 23 percentage points above control. A combination of earned media with paid or with paid plus brand creative lifted awareness even further."

The Only Way is Ethics, MarketingWeek, Aug. 4, 2011

According to research by marketing consultancy Goodbrand, companies that promote their ethical stance are more likely to attract and retain affluent consumers. The report’s findings indicate there are strong commercial benefits to brands being seen to act responsibility to communicating their ethical business practices. 


Public Relations' Advantages vs. Other Marketing and Communications Vehicles

Jeffrey, Angela, David Michaelson, and Don W. Stacks. Exploring the Link Between Share of Media Coverage and Business Outcomes, Institute for Public Relations, 2007.

Advertising people have long looked at "share of voice" as a measure of their influence in the marketplace. Public relations people sometimes use similar measures of media coverage versus their competitors. Jeffrey, Michaelson and Stacks determine how well "share of discussion", which incorporates both quantity and quality of an organization's non-paid media compared with competitors, actually relates to desired business outcomes. 

Weiner, Mark. Beyond ROI: The PR-to-Sales Connection Has Been Made, So What's Next? Institute for Public Relations, 2007.

Through new technologies and an advanced form of statistical analysis known as marketing mix modeling, companies in industries ranging from consumer packaged goods to financial services have quantified what we have always believed in our hearts to be true: public relations works. Even better, public relations consistently out performs other forms of marketing and at a fraction of the cost. The link between public relations and sales has been quantified and having achieved that objective, it's time now to go beyond return on investment.

Michaelson, David, and Don W. Stacks. Exploring the Comparative Communications Effectiveness of Advertising and Media Placement, Institute for Public Relations, 2006.

Michaelson and Stack’s research indicates that there is no statistically significant difference between advertising and editorial in an experiment focused on key measures of credibility, knowledge, and interest and purchase intent. The researchers found no statistically significant differences on almost all measures: brand recognition, message believability, overall interest or consumer preference. The article readers, however, perceived that they had received more information than the advertising readers. The article also scored better on measures of whether the respondents thought they could personally relate to the product. These results reinforce the importance of delivering product messages through a variety of channels. The authors surmise that with public relations-generated publicity being the clear equivalent of advertising, it may be cost-effective to shift more resources to public relations.

Jeffrey, Angela, David Michaelson, and Don W. Stacks. Exploring the Link Between Volume of Media Coverage and Business Outcomes, Institute for Public Relations, 2006. 

Media coverage is sometimes measured by counting clips, audience impressions, and the media value if the same space or time were purchased. At a more sophisticated level, volume measures may consider other factors like tone, accuracy and target audience reach. Jeffrey, Michaelson and Stacks offers case studies comparing quality and quantity of media coverage with business outcomes, using artificial-intelligence linguistics tools to analyze huge numbers of articles.

Jeffries-Fox, Bruce. Toward an Understanding of How News Coverage and Advertising Impact Consumer Perceptions, Attitudes, Institute for Public Relations, 2003.

Jeffries-Fox reports on studies that have taken the first steps toward understanding the conditions under which news coverage interacts with advertising to impact marketplace attitudes and perceptions. Understanding how news coverage interacts with other forms of marketing communications allows public relations professionals to develop more effective and efficient public relations plans.

Spong, Douglas K. Predatory Threats and the Evolution of PR: How to Thrive in the Coming Years, Public Relations Strategist, Spring 2002.

Spong believes that in order to keep their positions as reputation managers, public relations professionals need to become better at predicting and measuring the tangible and intangible business outcomes of their corporations.

Ries, Al, and Laura Ries. Advertising is Dead. Long Live PR, Public Relations Strategist, Spring 2002.

Excerpts from the book, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, by Al Ries and Laura Ries.

Jeffries-Fox, Bruce, and Mark Weiner. Understanding How News Coverage and Advertising Impact Consumer Perception and Attitudes, Public Relations Tactics, August 1999.

Jeffries-Fox and Weiner discuss research which compared effectiveness measurements for both public relations and advertising programs at AT&T and report that reactive public relations campaigns can result in loss of customer loyalty as well as negative news coverage. Negative media responses can adversely effect advertising campaigns. Positive and proactive public relations campaigns can increase customer loyalty even when advertising spending is reduced.

Ries, Al, and Laura Ries. The Power of Publicity, Public Relations Strategist, Winter 1998.

Ries and Ries argue that publicity can build brand identity and brand loyalty more effectively than advertising, and that what stakeholders say about a company is eminently more powerful than what a company says about itself.