Thursday, August 04, 2011

Reflections on PR productivity

The Broadgate Mainland survey is a useful contributor in the development of improved productivity for the PR sector.

We need to do something fast to reduce the effects of a perceived professional diversity trap brought about as a consequence of the present structure and practices in PR.

The survey makes us very aware of the key role that a good old fashioned web site plays in Financial (and a lot of other) public/media relations.

In addition, it offers insights into the role of social media as part of the communications mix that influences journalists and journalism.

ABC data:
A blow to an already struggling industry
The Spectator

Because press agentry is such a big part of current PR practice, and because of the attrition of print media (see left), it is important that research into the interface between PR people and the press is better understood and that the interplay between PR and Journalistic actors is made much more productive.

Source: Paid Content

The PR industry which is so dependant on media relations for its living has to acknowledge that it needs a thriving media sector to survive until it has adapted to the new environment. 

The new environment is one where there are fewer editorial pages, fewer journalists per editorial page and where Radio, TV and digital (including social media) are even more important.

It is now urgent that we develop, across the industry, some response to the implosion of the traditional media.

There are a number of other indicators in the Broadgate Mainland survey  that show us where we might begin to look to make the PR industry much more effective and build a defence for the sector.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the PR industry is not the first to have a productivity issue and that we can learn from their experience.

In the case of media relations, the best productivity driver is going to be a combination of quality management, cost reduction and satisfying the media that will eventually emerge from the ashes of the present industry.

It is not the place of this blog to do all the research and to make recommendations to the industry and show it teaches best practice. 

I can point out that PR is not alone, there is precedent and how research can inform the industry to help it become better at its job.

In a post in May, I showed the anatomy of a news story (the killing of Osama Bin Laden). It was evident from the findings that there is an interplay between a range of media for all good stories. It is not one medium or another it is all media that really counts.

In the meantime, who would not recognise a journalistic motivator when given this gem from Broadgate Mainland: "The number of hits a story receives has become the most popular measure of journalist success, followed by how an article is shared online." What this is telling us is that the media and the PR industry both have to take a multi-media view of media relations.

From this, the PR industry can begin to assemble the information it needs to be more productive against a backdrop of a declining, but still critical, media relations practice.

Online readership analysis – is bigger better?
 Show me numbers
Here is an example:If journalists are motivated by the web effects of their stories, is the PR industry obsessed with getting stories published that achieve above the average  number of online page views for their stories in the publication's website?

First we need the data (not hard - see graph) and then know what these data mean for practice.

It is by examining these research findings and others that we can begin to find out what high quality looks like.

For some it is the creativity of the original idea established in the strategy. For others, it may be the quality of writing and for another it may be way a story is pitched to the busy journalist.

But for the journalist what is gold plated?

Well, if the survey is to be believed, a happy editor and publisher is a good start and that means good clean original copy that can be used in the publication, blog and Twitter with a minimum of fuss and with every chance that it will go viral the instant 'enter' is clicked.

For enhanced productivity, we can see that more research is needed and then recommendations can be made, best practice can be developed and practitioners and students can be inspired.

Having a sense of what we need to deliver by way of quality, can we gain some idea of what we seek by way of cost reduction?

Productivity tools may be helpful
The practitioner should now be informed about how to manage time and resource to achieve out-takes.

Hit rate, that is, the number of relevant citations matching the campaign objectives (citations in selected magazines, web sites, social media etc should all count today), is a way of measuring out-take. Too many citation or too few citations in selected media are inefficient. This means that setting realistic out-take objectives is important (and because 'all publicity is good publicity' remains a top priority for a lot of clients, now is the time to check them for blood stained knuckles).

Time/cost ratio of output to out-take is what the industry needs to understand and work on. Another way of looking at press relations is the the reach and frequency of citations in selected media per input hour/cost.

What the table (above) is really saying, and it is only one of many productivity tools that can be used, is that there is another way of distributing press releases that has an inherent  and minimum10% productivity advantage. In an industry that grew 13% last year and which is outperforming the market profitability should be brilliant. But its not. Essentially, the industry is living on borrowed time and the long hours of a measly paid workforce.

When looking at services, in house practitioners and agencies should look at their functionality AND productivity gain. Today week Precise launched its new combined monitoring and media contact service.

Here is a case of an integrated service that could offer productivity advantages. But it is a service a million miles from the industry that persists in wanting dusty old paper press clippings as evidence of effectiveness.

Now my cry goes up... who in the PR industry is going to take productivity seriously and take it to the CIPR, PRCA, the universities and other major agencies of the profession?

The industry needs press relations but it also needs to mitigate press relations damage to its productivity.