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What matters in PR? With Paul Hender, CARMA (Part 1 of 2)

“What Matters in PR” shines the spotlight on PR leaders in the industry. For the first time since the series’ launch, we speak with one of our very own. As we step into 2024, Paul Hender, Group Chief Operating Officer, CARMA takes us through his journey and gives us a fresh perspective on the three critical use cases for data and insight in the boardroom.

Can you provide an overview of your background, and how it has prepared you for your current role as Chief Operating Officer at CARMA?

It’s been an unconventional journey for me because in PR you don’t often come across scientists.

Both my parents were physicists and I pursued physics as well. Even my son is now off doing physics. The influence of physics and sciences runs deep in my DNA.

It’s been challenging working in the PR industry which is predominantly people-oriented. But I found immense value in combining both scientific and creative skill sets.

“I’m very excited that communications is becoming both an art and a science. Having analysts in my insights team that complements the skills of PR and communications professionals, supported by really strong technology, gives me a strong sense of optimism for the future.”

Paul describes his hope for the future of communications

We have evolved from a traditional media landscape to a world with lots of different channels, where the audience themselves become content creators. How has PR measurement evolved over the years?

When I first started, it was pre-internet and we had a limited number of TV channels. There were only a few powerful newspapers that could influence governments and elections. The power was concentrated in the hands of a small number of publishers.

At that time, the challenge for analysts was to justify why PR was essential. People believed it was more of an art than a science, and the idea of measuring PR was considered elusive and intangible.

Fortunately, this perception has changed over time. We’ve witnessed the development of measurement tools and media intelligence for businesses, and communication professionals have become more sophisticated.

In the past, when there were just a handful of newspapers, you could manually analyse the media. You’d read them first thing in the morning and get a good sense of what was happening. However, you can’t do that anymore due to the explosion of media outlets.

Now, we have digital TV, 24/7 news cycles, podcasts, and social media platforms with numerous channels. Media content has multiplied, but it has also fragmented the audience. In the past, most people watched the same TV channels, but today, each family member might be looking at different screens, or be exposed to various feeds.

How does measurement ensure that PR has a permanent seat in the boardroom?

A critical area that warrants attention from the board and concerns the CFO is the question: “Am I getting value from the investments I’m making in my different departments?”

And this is obviously dependent on the economic environment. People are consequently going to be more cautious about investments, and naturally, CFOs will exercise more prudence in their decisions.

“How do you demonstrate that you are an integral part of driving organisational outcomes such as generating sales and revenue. This is no longer optional, it’s a necessity.”

Paul on the classic issue faced by communications and PR teams

So where Measurement plays a part is in connecting these dots, constructing evidence for the impact of what might be seen as an intangible service – communications, PR, and media management. It establishes how these functions contribute to the bottom line and makes a tangible difference to the overall business impact.

How can data support PR and communications leaders in measuring their reputation?

Reputation management is something that the CEO and the board will be worried about. Communicators face pressures in making sense of this vast content landscape quickly.

In the past, businesses could focus solely on their local markets, but now, the media disregards national boundaries. News can spread globally in an instant.

The complex media landscape already makes it challenging to understand their audiences, the key influencers, and the dynamics of the channels they’re on.

Companies and governments that invest heavily in communication strategies aimed at reshaping stakeholder’s hearts and minds must do the following:

  • Have a global perspective and be able to understand and collect information in multiple languages across different markets.
  • Demonstrate how communications efforts are changing people’s perceptions over time, thereby influencing and transforming reputations

Our recent work with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their Vision 2030 program where multiple government departments are coming together to drive significant change in national and international perceptions, is a good example of this.

What else can we use PR measurement and media data for?

We can leverage PR measurement, media data, and analysis not just for understanding situations and managing crises or monitoring reputation, but also for fostering innovative thinking.

When starting something new in a company, you want to conduct an experiment or a dipstick study to gauge initial reactions and understand what people think before full implementation.

The results are helpful for refining strategies and addressing potential concerns early in the process.

This proactive approach is centered on gaining understanding before taking action, emphasising the importance of informed decision-making.

As we enter the new year, what is one habit that communicators should pick up?

I think curiosity is probably the most crucial habit you should cultivate; the willingness to ask questions.

I’ve found two reasons people engage in analysis – one that I find frustrating and another that I find encouraging.

It’s frustrating when individuals view analysis as a mere checkbox exercise to make them appear successful. This often manifests at the end of a campaign, where the sole focus is on achieving a big number in terms of impressions or reach.

This is a fundamentally flawed approach as it drives incentives to report big numbers without thinking of the efficacy of the communications activity – in some cases, team bonuses are linked to these ‘counts and amounts’, regardless of how impactful the campaign or program actually was.

In contrast, I am encouraged by those who use research and analysis for its intended purpose: to gain intelligence to enhance your performance and help you work better in the future.

What have we learnt from that? What tactics have proven effective in securing a good piece of coverage? What does a good piece of media coverage actually look like? What about bad coverage? How do you quantify that? Has it led to any changes in engagement or attitudes? Does the effectiveness vary across different types of audiences, media channels or markets?

Paul on the questions to ask when scrutinising campaign coverage

What should communicators do next?

This boils down to the debate between intellectual curiosity and vanity exercise. When you’re treating measurement as a vanity exercise, there’s a tendency to favor standardisation.

You think, “I want one metric that everyone will recognise and makes me look good.” This is evidenced by the widespread use of advertising value equivalent or AVE, which provides a financial number for this very purpose.

As soon as you go down the intellectual curiosity route, you start thinking, ‘What knowledge can we get to help us do better?” This leads us to dig deeper: What is our overarching goal, and our true purpose?

When conducting a framework exercise with a client, I start by clarifying both the organisation’s objectives and its communications goals, which then shapes their PR strategy and activities. Achievements and learnings should be measured against these defined objectives.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of What Matters in PR? With Paul Hender, CARMA

Read other What Matters in PR? interviews here.

Speak with one of our experienced consultants about your media monitoring and communications evaluation today.