One of the most frequent, and complex, questions we get is ‘how do I prove that my comms activities, and not marketing or advertising, lead to XYZ outcome?’
The urge to attribute X activity to Y result is natural – but it often ignores the very obvious truth that people don’t make decisions in a vacuum. None of us buy something just because of one article we read, or one advert we saw. It’s the result of probably months and years of brand awareness; conversations with friends, family, colleagues; previous experience; exposure to a variety of comms, marketing, and advertising; that one post a friend commented on; those articles that came up on our social feed; the poster we saw on the train; and dozens of other things.
A recent article showcasing the thoughts of Les Binet, group head of effectiveness at Adam&EveDDB, explains why digital attribution metrics aren’t as reliable as people may think. To quote him, “It looks very scientific, it looks very precise, and it’s extremely unreliable.” While the article focuses on marketing and advertising, it has prompted some thoughts that PR and comms professionals might consider:
1. PRs often shy away from measurement because they’re afraid of making an incorrect attribution and not being taken seriously as a result – this is why I think it’s important to consider contribution as well as/instead of attribution. Yes, you may not be able to draw a hard line between that PR campaign and X% of sales revenue – but you don’t need to, because that’s not how people make decisions. Measure it in terms of the top end of the marketing funnel (driving awareness, reputation, interest, etc.) to make sure you’ve got credibility and are actually measuring what you’re influencing. As Binet says, “If you just follow the attribution data, you end up just doing short-term stuff. You never build a brand, you don’t grow the customer base, you don’t grow the base level of demand. And it’s a recipe for disaster in business.” PR is often by nature long-term – you can’t always tie it to short-term outcomes.
2. The feeling that marketing and advertising come to the table with concrete figures proving their value often leads to PRs trying to find as many data points as possible to mimic this data. But it’s not as robust as you think – once you start pulling at that thread, it can fall apart quite quickly. So don’t get preoccupied trying to find a perfect, silver bullet metric that proves the value of your work. Paid and owned don’t have one either.
3. Econometric analysis for marketing attribution is hard (if you want to do it properly). It takes lots of playing around, lots of testing, lots of digging for relevant data. It takes time, effort, and consideration. To an extent, the same can go for PR measurement. What the most successful PR programmes have in common is stakeholders taking the time to plan them, to test, and to accept that they won’t be perfect straight out of the gate, but should evolve over time.
PR isn’t transactional, so its measurement shouldn’t be either. It’s about brand building: awareness, reputation, connecting and engaging with an audience, and storytelling. You won’t be able to measure its impact by just counting things, or by looking for a silver bullet metric. Put in the time and consideration to plan measurement of what you actually influence, and build on it over time. To use an age-old adage – begin simply, but simply begin.