The client question that sent me over the edge

Has a client ever asked you this question: How many times were we quoted vs. our competitors during the last six months?

Recently, during a Measurement Minute webinar, I shared a story about this question. I explained how this particular question sent me over the edge – or at least, it helped lead to my realization that measurement truly makes life easier for PR professionals. So, just in case you missed the webinar, I thought I’d relive the details here…

Once upon a time I had this client – she’s actually become a really good friend of mine – and every so often she would come to our PR team with a request like:

“I need to know how many times we were quoted vs. our competitors during the last six months… can you give me a report tomorrow?”

Now, we never really knew when our client was going to approach us with this type of urgent request. And, despite the fact that it happened multiple times, we were never prepared for her questions. Obviously this created a number of problems.

For one thing, from my client’s perspective, she thought she was asking a pretty straight-forward and simple question. Although we had never actually discussed it, she assumed that since my team had designed the PR strategy and we were responsible for executing it, that we were automatically tracking all the information relating to the campaign. She didn’t know that she was requesting info that we didn’t actually have sitting around on hand for her.

I can guarantee that my client had no idea that every time she asked this sort of question, our team had to scramble to pull together the information she was looking for.

I remember many a time when I, along with several members of my team, spent long hours – working late I might add – going through six months of coverage reports and tallying quotes. Of course, we played it cool in front of our client. We acted like it was no big deal to hand over the information. But what was going on behind the scenes was anything but cool. It was the opposite of cool.

Well, after more than a few late nights… and a disgruntled team, I had an epiphany. I finally realized that we needed to be compiling the information my client repeatedly asked us for, and we needed to collect it on an ongoing basis. That way we would have it at our fingertips the next time she requested a report.

So, I started making a list of questions my client could potentially ask, based on the type of information she usually requested. Then I began to think about all the information I’d need to gather to ensure that we’d always have data available for her when she requested it. Let me tell you, from that moment on our entire client-agency relationship improved. Life was easier for my PR team, and my client got the results she wanted faster than ever before.

What’s the point of sharing this story? Well, I hope it encourages you to think about how prepared you are, and whether or not you have access to a system that allows you to easily pull side-by-side comparisons of competitor coverage and your coverage. Because, when you have data like this at your fingertips you are better able to respond to client requests. And, you’re also more likely to spot insights that will help you improve the overall performance of your PR program.

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Clients want to know: How do our PR results compare to the results of our competitors?

How do our PR results compare to the results of our competitors?

This seems like it is a simple enough question, but many PR professionals have a difficult time answering it when they’re asked by a client or executive. If a client lobs this question your way, you actually have a great opportunity to win some major points for your PR program by showcasing the different ways you are beating competitors. Have you earned more coverage or been quoted more often than competitors? Have PR efforts helped close a sales gap between you and your competitors? If so, these are the things you want executives to know, so they will understand that PR is helping move the business forward.

Of course, in order to highlight your PR achievements, you have to know what they are. You need to have some information to help you identify PR’s accomplishments and the relationship between you and your competitors. That’s why it is important for PR pros to not only measure PR efforts for their own programs, but to also monitor the competition. Doing so will ensure that you have data to help answer clients or executives when they ask: How do our PR results compare to the results of our competitors?

Here’s a look at some of the other questions that clients and execs may ask you regarding PR results and competitors:

  • How many times were we quoted vs. our competitors during the last six months?
  • How are we faring with our thought leadership platform? Are we beating our competitors?
  • How often are our products mentioned vs. competitive products?
  • If we’re not beating our competitors, are we at least gaining ground?

From the client’s perspective, these are straight forward questions. They assume this is information you have on hand. If you aren’t able to give clients and executives the answers they’re looking for when they ask about PR results, they won’t understand how valuable PR really is. You want to be able to provide clients and executives detailed answers to their questions. Doing this is easy if you’re measuring your program and capturing information along the way.

On a side note, if you are measuring your PR program, you can analyze the information you collect to make better, more informed decisions about how to improve and fine-tune your PR efforts. You’ll uncover opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have realized. It’s much easier to find opportunities when they are staring you in the face. By taking advantage of new opportunities, you’ll be able to produce even better results to “wow” clients and executives.

What clients want to know: Is PR getting results?

Is PR getting results? It is a question that every client has. And when they ask, they don’t just want to hear a bunch of fluff. They don’t want to know that PR has earned “a bunch of really great coverage.” Clients expect more than that from their agency. They expect clear answers – and they should. After all, if they’re going to invest money in PR, then they deserve to know what they are getting in return.

The best way I can recommend for you to, as a PR professional, prepare for the inevitable client question, “Is PR getting results?” is to collect data and use it to evaluate PR on an ongoing basis. That way, whenever you’re called upon by a client to answer tough performance questions, you’ll always have information available to explain PR’s progress.

Here’s a look at a few questions that clients commonly ask about their PR campaigns:

  • How much coverage are we getting?
  • Where are we getting coverage – is it in the right places?
  • What is the quality of the coverage?
  • Are our messages getting through?
  • How is the PR program performing compared to last quarter, last year?
  • Is PR getting results? What are some key highlights of our success?

If a client comes to you and fires off this list of questions, and you haven’t been collecting data and analyzing campaign results, you may start to panic a little. Okay, you may start to panic a lot. And that’s because you know that failing to provide satisfactory answers to these questions means you run the risk of having your client lose faith in the PR program – and you.

Let’s go back to that list of questions for a minute, and we’ll look at an example of how you can give your client a clear answer and support it with real measurement data. We can just use the first question on the list, “How much coverage are we getting?” Now, you wouldn’t want to answer this question by saying:

“Oh, well we’ve gotten some great coverage. I don’t know off the top of my head the actual number of articles, but I can tell you that we’ve had numerous articles in the key trades, and of course, we got that great hit in the Wall Street Journal. I feel good about the program and can assure you it’s on track. The team has been compiling a clip book with all the coverage to share with you at the end of the quarter, I can have them send you an early draft, if you’d like.”

What’s wrong with this answer? For starters, it’s not specific enough. If a client asks you this question they are probably looking for some details regarding the number of articles secured, how many blogs they were mentioned in, the number of broadcasts their company was part of, that sort of thing.

It would be much better to say something along the lines of:

“I can show you some numbers to give you a feel for where we are at with coverage… so far we’ve been included in 53 blog posts. We’ve also successfully booked 15 radio interviews.  We’ve exceeded our goal of being included in 12 trade articles – since we actually earned coverage in 15 published trade articles. We also were able to secure 12 mainstream media interviews, and we’ve already had coverage in 8 of our target mainstream publications, with 2 additional pieces of coverage still expected.” 

It’s fairly easy to see the difference between the first answer and the second one. The second answer gives your client a much better look at specific coverage details and better answers the question, “How much coverage are we getting?”

Of course, in order to provide specific details about coverage, or any other part of the campaign for that matter, you need to be measuring your PR and capturing the data that is important to your clients.

Tough questions from clients and executives – don’t sweat them

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to drop what you were doing and search through stacks of coverage, clip books, and old files in a desperate attempt to locate information for a client or executive regarding PR results?  I don’t know about you, but for me, losing hours of precious time in order to try to piece together coverage results for clients is just not an option.

When clients ask questions about the performance of a public relations program, PR teams generally respond in one of two ways: 1) they scramble and use valuable time set aside for campaign work to piece together the information the client is looking for, or 2) they confidently say “no problem, you’ll have it within the hour” and effortlessly deliver the info the client requested. The difference comes from keeping good records, measuring results, and having an organized reporting system in place – one that lets you pull up information in just a click.

We’re presenting a webinar tomorrow on the Measurement Minute webcast channel that addresses how PR pros can better prepare for the tough questions clients and executives ask. The webinar is titled: Stop Scrambling Behind the Scenes – Get the Information You Need in Just One Click. Here are the details:  

Webinar: Stop Scrambling Behind the Scenes – Get the Info You Need in Just One Click

Date: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 10 a.m. PST

During this program we’ll discuss how to ensure you have the information you need at your fingertips, so you can stop sweating when clients make urgent demands and ask tough questions. We will also be taking a look at questions clients are likely to ask the PR team. For example:

  • Is PR getting results?
  • How do our PR results compare to the results of our competitors?
  • How can we improve the program?

I hope you’ll consider joining us. If you’re not available for the live webinar, the program will be available for viewing on-demand immediately following the live presentation. As with all Measurement Minute webinars, this program is free. You can view more details and register for the webinar here.

Referrals, case studies and resumes – 3 perks of measurement

You probably know that measuring PR helps you to understand your progress, allows you to make improvements and adjustments to campaigns, and ultimately enables you to produce the best possible results. But, just in case that’s not reason enough to get started with measurement, here are three “bonuses” you can take advantage of by incorporating measurement into your PR:

  • Referrals
  • Killer case studies
  • A padded resume

One way that agency professionals, in particular, can benefit from measurement is in the form of referrals. When you measure PR you can achieve better results for clients – plain and simple. Plus, with the data you collect by measuring your programs you’ll actually be able to prove to clients, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that your PR initiatives have directly impacted business outcomes. So, how does this earn you referrals? Well, when you consistently demonstrate to clients that you’re able to produce PR results, meet and exceed business goals, beat competitors, and move the needle for their company, you earn credibility and respect. And, that is just the reputation you want to have when you are in an industry full of people who communicate with each other for a living. Let’s face it, if you can use measurement to produce outstanding results and wow clients, there’s a good chance they’ll spread the word. Then you’ll end up cashing in on business from referrals.

Case studies also attract attention to PR programs, and they are a great place to highlight PR successes. If you’ve faithfully invested time and effort into collecting measurement data, then you likely have all the information you need to create a killer case study. Remember that in order to build a convincing case study you need to include specific examples of PR’s success, and then support those examples with metrics and analytics.

Also, there’s no doubt that as a PR professional it is gratifying to earn recognition for campaigns you’ve worked on. And, that recognition can benefit you personally and professionally. Having a portfolio that includes samples from successful PR campaigns you have been a part of is useful for professional advancement. Showing that you have measurement experience and know-how will come in handy when it is time to change positions, apply for a promotion or make another type of career move. It could also earn you recognition in the form of awards – which, of course, always look nice in a bio or on a resume.

So, remember, not only does measurement help you get the most out of your campaigns, it also increases your credibility as an individual, helps you go farther in your career, wins you more clients, and allows you to contribute to improving the overall credibility of the PR industry.

Lobbying for budget dollars

One of the many consequences of not measuring PR is that you miss out on opportunities to grow your budget. This is just one of the reasons why I say that programs suffer without measurement. Today I want to offer some suggestions for how you can use measurement to actually increase your budget. Here are a few things you can do to improve your odds when asking clients or executives to invest more money into PR:

Showcase PR’s achievements with data – Before you can convince clients or executives to stick more money into PR, you first need to prove that you are successfully managing the resources you already have. When lobbying for additional funding for your PR program, it is important to show clients and executives exactly what PR has achieved with the existing budget. This means collecting data so you’re able to clearly highlight accomplishments, and connect PR to positive business outcomes.

A common mistake is to assume that clients and execs “know” the specific ways PR is impacting business. This is a dangerous assumption. When you’re lobbying for a budget increase you can’t afford to have PR’s business contribution overlooked. Think about it, even if your executives know that PR has earned some positive results, they won’t know “PR generated 82 pieces of coverage and drove more than 47,000 page views of the website, which helped the company achieve its key business objective – 60,000 new users – within the first three months of the campaign” unless you tell them. Don’t let PR’s accomplishments go unnoticed by neglecting to include real numbers and measurement data during reporting.

Be specific – Showcasing PR achievements takes much more than just rattling off some vague points about getting some good media coverage. You won’t win respect or funding for your program with unclear PR results like, “the PR team landed coverage in the company’s targeted publications – ones that spanned from local business press to influential national publications.” This type of statement doesn’t show whether coverage increased or decreased, what outcomes resulted from the coverage, or what effect the coverage had on business. Instead, try including metrics in your reporting to make achievements more clear. You can better qualify coverage by reporting something that sounds more like, “the PR program yielded 500% more coverage than during the previous six months, which led to a sales increase of more than 300%.”

Package PR results using charts, graphs, metrics – Use visual data to confirm what you’re “telling” executives PR achieved. Pull together measurement data into clear, easy-to-understand charts and graphs so that executives can see PR results at-a-glance.

Speak the right language – Sure, clients and executives want to know that a program is meeting PR goals like securing interviews and earning coverage. But, PR outputs aren’t the only thing they care about. Clients and executives are usually much more concerned with knowing how PR results translated into business results. So, in addition to reporting things like coverage and interviews, be sure to report achievements that demonstrate sales, new business leads, and other business outcomes that are aligned with business goals.

PR Measurement is instrumental in creating successful campaigns – the type that can ultimately lead to opportunities for agencies and corporate PR departments to grow PR budgets. Using measurement data to demonstrate the value of your program enables you to position PR as a worthwhile investment that deserves additional funding.

When measurement is met with resistance

Today I was sifting through some of the responses we collected as part of the measurement survey we recently conducted. One section of the survey asked PR professionals to explain what they felt was the biggest obstacle associated with PR measurement. Two responses immediately caught my attention. Here is the first:

“Price. Plain and simple. With budgets being cut back it is hard to justify [measurement] to the execs.”

Well said. I’m not at all surprised to see this response. In fact, I’ve heard this sentiment repeated more times than I can count. Unfortunately, the PR community has been dealing with cuts and tighter budgets during the past several years. Because of this, many PR professionals have found it difficult to sell execs on the benefits of measurement.

When facing executives that are skeptical about the returns measurement offers, I like to point out that measurement pays for itself because it helps achieve better business results. I also remind executives that without a system in place to measure PR results, they’re likely to miss opportunities to grow and beat their competitors.

The other survey response I found interesting was:

“Time – there is so much to do, and people don’t want me or my teams working on measurement when there is work to do.”

I agree that if there is one thing that every PR professional needs more of it is time. While I don’t have a solution for getting more than 24 hours out of a day, I do suggest that agencies be upfront about measurement – and how they’ll use it to deliver results – from the very beginning of the relationship. Clients recognize business results, so make sure they understand that measuring PR is and integral part of achieving great results. Then, build time for measurement into your schedule so you have data and analytics to guide your PR activities every step of the way.

PR professionals have a financial interest in convincing clients and executives that measurement is essential. Based on research done by Wallop! OnDemand, PR agencies and corporate departments without measurement could potentially lose the following:

Corporate PR programs

  • $7,200 lost annually for emerging startups and small businesses
  • $36,000 lost annually for established startups
  • $120,000 lost annually for mid-sized companies
  • $240,000 lost annually for large publicly established companies

Agencies

  • $79,200 lost annually – virtual PR agencies
  • $316,800 lost annually – boutique PR agencies
  • $1,320,000 lost annually – mid-sized PR agencies
  • $2,640,000 lost annually – large PR agencies

These numbers reflect possible losses in revenue due to factors like missed growth opportunities, budget cuts, losing existing clients, and failing to win new clients.

For PR professionals, numbers like these are eye-opening and should not be ignored, even when the idea of measurement is met with some resistance from clients or executives. Insisting on measurement leads to better PR results and happier clients/executives in the end.

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