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A guest blog from Guy Corbet on How Communications Might Remain Relevant

22 Feb 2017

The PR and communication industry is struggling to remain relevant while other marketing disciplines are running rings around it.  The industry should take responsibility for its future.  It should start to make its own weather.

For communications to keep up with the rest of the marketing mix it must do two things.  It must start taking seriously the need to prove the value of what it does.  Then it must make sure that what it does is worthwhile, and demonstrably so. 

Obviously, this will mean doing more of the valuable stuff.  That much is obvious.  Less palatably, it should also mean culling the bad work.  Cutting out the mediocrity could mean hard times for some agencies and in-house teams.

 

Time to step up

Despite the best efforts of professional PR story tellers, other marketing disciplines are more successful at convincing clients of the value of what they do.

Take online advertising.  Fraud is rife.  Half of internet advertising is never seen by humans and yet spend has grown by 15.3% in the past year alone.  

That's right.  Fake online ads which either don't exist or are never seen make a more convincing case for budget than PR often does.  What a sorry state of affairs.

No doubt advertisers blind their buyers with science.  Perhaps they throw so much big data around that it mesmerises their clients who become compelled to spend.

Even if the evidence behind advertising effectiveness is made-up (and fraudulent), it is telling a more convincing story than the PR industry.

And it is not alone.  Huge numbers of Twitter accounts are fraudulent too.  Many argue live streaming is snake oil.  Measuring digital views online is seen as nonsense.

 

Demonstrating value

Rather than grumble about these deceptions, or remain blind to them, the PR and communications industry needs to think about how it is seen by management. 

Then it needs to do more to prove how its effectiveness would justify more influence with management, and the budgets to make yet more impact.

It is time to stop fudging and start to assess business impact.  Every communications plan should start with it.  It should not be the afterthought tacked on at the end.

Every plan should spell out how it will assess what it's trying to achieve, and how that helps meet the business objectives.  Coverage should only ever be presented as a means to an end, not the end itself.

 

Opportunity knocking?

For the first time in years, the momentum should be with the communications industry. 

Boards are recognising the value of reputation, though it is worrying they are concluding those reputations are too important to be left to the comms teams.

But it is easy to see why.  As PR and communications rarely set out to prove effectiveness, there is little to distinguish between good work and bad.  

So both good and bad continue.  It is no surprise that PR is often associated with the rubbish, not the riches.

Look at the PR industry awards.  Many winners are brilliant.  But some entries amount to little more than turning up for work, and they get prizes for that. 

Not measuring effectiveness simply perpetuates the reputation PR has as being fluffy and lightweight.

 

The Darwinian check

Make no mistake, good evaluation will expose bad work.  It will reveal for what it is the stock-in-trade activity which lines agency pockets, but does little or nothing for the brands it should serve.  

Done well measurement will help everyone raise their standards, or it will shut their doors.  That should not be something to fear. 

It would lead to better, more creative, more interesting, more effective work. 

It would serve clients better by delivering more impact.  It would even start to make the case for PR to sit at the big strategic table.  It would make PR and communications irresistibly relevant.

That comes by putting evaluation first, not fudging it or leaving it to the end. 

 

Guy Corbet (@GuyCorbet) is an independent communications consultant and an associate of The Measurement Practice which helps clients and agencies better measure, understand and improve the value their PR and communications deliver.

If you have any thoughts on how PR communications can remain relevant, we would love to hear from you.  Drop us a line on 020 7559 6690 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk.  

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