Result: The Only PR Metric That Counts
I learned the definition of work in my fourth grade science class. It was a simple equation. Work = the Expenditure of Energy to Achieve a Result.
The example given in our “Dick and Jane” textbook: If you push against a big rock and it moves, you’ve achieved work. If the rock stays put, you’ve accomplished nothing. No result = no work.
I was reminded of this distinction while poring over a colleague’s review of his first quarter performance for a client. He called upon all manner of calculations to prove the merit of his efforts. The obvious stuff: numbers of press briefings held, trade shows attended, media round tables hosted, features participated in, bylines placed, and speaker placements secured. Then came the “New Math” of social media metrics: site traffic, Facebook likes, Twitter traffic, Klout score, site traffic on a landing page, conversion funnels, and so on.
Such data is useful as long as it doesn’t become the end game. Call me a mathematical philistine — it’s true that my engineer father went to his grave certain he and Mom brought home the wrong baby from the hospital — but to me, results are much more than data. The only measure that counts is whether you achieve what you set out to do, a point so obvious that it’s odd how often some PR pros obscure their results behind a numeric facade rather say point blank whether they succeeded or failed. They talk to the rock (create elaborate plans), put lipstick on it (document their efforts in stat-bloated presentations), even surround it with other rocks (prove they’re busy by engaging in social media), but the rock, meaning the hard thing they set out to accomplish, never budged. By the strict definition I learned at age 9, they didn’t accomplish any work.
Sometimes the effort to mask non-work reaches extreme, even absurd limits. One agency we know lists every imaginable activity in its quarterly report to clients, including the fact that it attended four weekly conference calls per month. Somehow, sitting on the phone discussing weekly status and to do’s doesn’t strike me as a performance result. My favorite, however, was the former employee who wrapped up a campaign review with an elaborate multi-color powerpoint presentation. Once I got beyond the stunning graphics it became clear that she really hadn’t accomplished much. Frankly, wrapping paper means nothing to me. I’d rather see an outstanding result reported in plain old black and white than a big nothing delivered in technicolor. Just the facts, ma’am.
Obscure results often have their origin in murky beginnings: work without a clear goal. Whenever I sit with a client, mapping goals for the year, I like to be direct:
“What’s your most important business objective? Then I’ll tell you if and how PR can help.”
Maybe they want to raise market share to 60%. Perhaps they want to split up the company and sell the pieces for more than the value of the whole. Or go to IPO. Or launch an acquisition spree that builds shareholder value. Or merge with a larger company, or with one that has complementary products. Sometimes the goal is to win a policy victory — or prevent an arch enemy from winning one.
To date, no client has ever set out asking for more press releases, more media briefings at trade shows or even a higher Klout score. Unsophisticated in the ways of PR, business folk tend to focus on mundane matters like making or saving money. The nice thing is, it’s a metric you can’t fudge.
Jim Crawford is the president and founder of Crawford PR. In Crawford blogs, he offers hard-earned perspective on public relations for the tech and broadband industries.