Making things measurable

Why PR needs to take note of the advertising industry’s struggles

The mechanisms by which brands try to reach consumers have come under great scrutiny over the last twelve months. 

When, in January of this year, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, threatened to pull spend from digital channels if more transparent means of measurement weren’t made available, he was voicing concerns that had been growing in the industry for some time. 

His warning encapsulated industry frustration with the impossibility of measuring the impact of advertising strategies in any meaningful way, and consumer dissatisfaction with brands’ methods of communicating with them. 

For many, Pritchard’s suggestion that he would put his marketing dollars where his mouth is felt like a much-needed reality check. If enough big brands pull spend, the industry’s future growth looks shaky. Without the introduction of robust, comparable metrics, there could even be some contraction. 

Why should this worry the PR industry? After all, it’s the complex network of advertisers, publishers and tech middle-men that are responsible for repetitively targeting consumers with content that increasingly lacks relevance. 

It matters if you are trying to influence the way people think, feel and act, because there is a fundamental disconnect between what brands want to achieve and what consumers think about their efforts to engage them.   

Comms professionals should learn a number of lessons.

1. You may be closer to advertising than you think 

You may believe you’re distinct from the world of advertising, but your audience has a more sophisticated understanding of comms methods than you might imagine. 

Consumers perceive the vast majority of brand messages – regardless of channel or delivery – as advertising messages. They are ever wiser to how comms works, whether a brand is mentioned in a broadsheet, through a promoted post on social media, or a TV spot. 

Don’t assume that because PR approaches are less overt they’re slipping under the radar: dial up authenticity and transparency. 

2. Say goodbye to the silo

Not only are consumers conflating PR with other comms mechanisms, there is a growing desire amongst brands to achieve a single view of who their audience is, how they are being reached, and how they are responding. 

This has become particularly important as consumers’ tolerance for brand messages is being pushed to the limit by repetitive targeting, and PR needs to take its place as part of a holistic engagement strategy. 

3. Metrics matter to you too 

The battle for accurate measurement has been the bane of the advertising industry of late. But the push for a set of robust, comparable metrics that will allow brands to understand the value of their comms investment isn’t an advertising-specific issue –all aspects of how brands engage consumers will be expected to be measurable. 

For PR this is likely to mean thinking carefully about how the industry reports on its work and how this might compare with and complement other sectors.   

This piece first appeared in PR Week

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