A Public Relations Cliché I’m Really Tired Of

June 24th, 2009

Steve Shannon

If you are going to play business buzzword bingo at any public relations conference, the one phrase that should sit square in the middle as the free space is “seat at the table,” as in, “PR needs a seat at the table in the C-Suite (another buzzword) and/or the boardroom.”  I’ve been associated with the PR industry for 17 years now and I heard “seat at the table” at my very first PR conference, and I’m still hearing it today. No matter the topic, session, or agenda, that gem is sure to come out multiple times. How is it, in 17 years, PR is still wandering the halls, looking for the conference room with the meeting that has their “seat at the table”?

I’ll tell you why: Because the vast majority of PR professionals cannot tell you, in numbers, how their 71926867_14.jpgcommunications efforts impacted the bottom line of the organization and, if not the bottom line, how their communication efforts supported the organization’s overall business objectives, again in numbers.  In fact, other than senior communicators at any given organization, I’d wager you’d be hard-pressed to find PR pros who can rattle off their company’s business objectives, as defined by the CEO.

Why the emphasis on numbers? Simple: it is the language of the C-Suite and the Board. That’s a cliché too, but it’s the hard truth. No CEO or board member worth their salt focuses on clipbooks, story counts, impression counts, and the like. Numbers like that get a SO WHAT, as in “so what did that do for the organization’s bottom-line or business objectives?” Buzz and 50 cents get you a cup of coffee, bub.

So what’s PR to do? How does PR measure its communications efforts in a way that can show bottom-line results or business objective support? Unfortunately, there are too many organizations with differing or unique circumstances and objectives to provide a cookie-cutter approach or it would have happened already.

What I’d like to suggest (and BurrellesLuce is ready to help lead the effort) is that the various public relations organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Council of PR Firms, the Institute for Public Relations, and the Society for New Communications Research, among others, come together, and lay out simple, easy-to-get-started measurement templates for the universal business objectives of the most common business or organization verticals, which do share common circumstances and objectives. 

For example, hotels all share the common business objective of getting guests to book sleeping rooms, meeting rooms, and dining or catering services. How does PR support this? How can that be measured and numerically reported in a way that shows the C-Suite how much PR drives sales of sleeping rooms, meeting rooms, and dining or catering?  With a measurement template out there for hotels, endorsed by all of the organizations above, how much do you want to bet that every hotel PR professional out there not measuring bottom-line results or business objective support would start? 

Imagine if there was a template out there for your industry? Wouldn’t you start measuring how your PR efforts deliver bottom-line results or support business objectives?

3 Responses to “A Public Relations Cliché I’m Really Tired Of”

  1. Jenna says:

    I couldn’t agree more. As PR pros, we need the organizations that are there to support us and promote the industry to create this basic measurement system. We certainly pay them plenty through our memberships, fees, etc.

  2. Mary Alice says:

    Ah, the age-old dilemma: how to measure success. A former PR boss used to lament: “When sales are down, it’s marketing/PR’s fault; and when sales are up, marketing/PR had nothing do with it.” A quantitative measurement system would make our work (and my resume) that much more impactful.
    Oh, and where can I get a good cup of coffee for 50 cents?

  3. KDPaine says:

    The reality is that lots of PR people have been showing bottom line results for years. Many have been my clients. The bigger challenge is that the vast majority of PR people work are sole practitioners or working for tiny businesses or non-profits and they can’t afford the services of you and me. PRSA is already working on some guidelines as is SNCR. You only have to look north to see how hard this is. CPRS worked for a year, and granted di get some buy in, and alot of criticism for chosing a single template. But with the advent of social media, that template is now obsolete. I think if nothing else we can move people away from AVEs, hits, clicks and column inches and get them to understand the language of business, we’d be at that proverbial table.

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