“Proving the value of public relations” continues to be one of the profession’s greatest and most wide-spread challenges because the definition of “value” is purely subjective: What holds value for one may be different from what holds value for another. But what makes the process even more difficult is that values change not just from organization to organization but from person to person within the same organization.
Some public relations people make it easy for clients to determine program performance by setting specific and measurable objectives and then assessing the extent to which they met or beat them. However, others are purposively vague, making it almost impossible to quantify their performance: they sacrifice the opportunity for proven success in exchange for never having to admit to failure.
Other PR people assume to assert that there is only one “best way” to prove the value of public relations (whether it’s measured by anything from clip-counting to behavioral change or sales). They argue that alternatives are impractical, meaningless … even sacrilegious.
And then there are others who embody the role of relationship-builder by listening to and reflecting the attitudes and preferences of their clients rather than assigning strict personal values. While resolution may come slowly and more painfully to purists, the wisest way to minimize risk in proving value is to incorporate the preferences of our clients — imperfect though they may be — before helping them and the organization to migrate together toward better value-measures upon which we can all agree. Ideally, PR professional and client align themselves around and through a value-system which is meaningful, measurable and reasonable, and which satisfies our professional standards for what public relations is and what it is not…without risk and without rancor.
Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research in North America, a global research-based public relations consulting firm based in Ann Arbor, MI. Since 1993, Mark has devoted his career to helping many of the world’s most respected organizations and brands to demonstrate and generate a positive return on their investment in corporate and brand communications. He is the author of “Unleashing the Power of PR: A Contrarian’s Guide to Marketing and Communication.” Previously, Mark Weiner was the global director and senior vice president of Ketchum Research where he led an international team of analysts. Prior to joining Ketchum, Weiner was the CEO and president of Delahaye, one of the world’s most recognizable providers of corporate communications and public relations research and consulting.
Join Mark for his presentation, “Proving the Value of Public Relations (And Why So Many People Get It Wrong),” at the PRSA 2009 International Conference: Delivering Value, November 7–10 in San Diego, CA.