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Proving PR’s impact: New study finds most PR pros can’t prove their work helps their business or client

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Public Relations

PR pros are highly focused on generating high volumes of media coverage, among other tasks, to move the needle for their company or clients, and less so on tracking the commercial impact of their efforts—and new research from PR industry reporting platform CoverageBook asserts that while PR may talk the talk when it comes to boardroom relevance, it’s failing to walk the walk as a result of this misdirected focus. 

The UK-based firm’s new survey research of over 350 senior PR and marketing professionals shows that just one-third of PR pros align their activity with commercial goals—revealing a significant disconnect between how the industry measures and reports on activity and what senior leaders and budget holders expect to see. 

This research comes at a time when clients are putting increased scrutiny on PR teams to demonstrate impact

While the industry is finally putting outdated metrics like AVE (used by just 7 percent of respondents) to bed, the result is there’s no real consensus on how to prove the value of PR and communications. The firm determined that the secret is to bridge the gap between PR activities and the company or clients’ commercial goals, ensuring that there’s no disconnect between agency and client or within a business.

So what exactly are brands measuring? 

Well unsurprisingly, the focus is on outputs and audience, with 96 percent citing target audience as a key measurement criteria and 66 percent high volumes of coverage. 

But less than half of PR pros currently consider new biz and sales when measuring the impact of their work—just 41 percent of UK respondents and 34 percent of US respondents take the new business/sales pipeline into account. These numbers drop significantly when asked about investment generation—just 14 percent of UK respondents and 13 percent of US respondents were involved with this.

Lack of commercial proof has a financial impact

So what’s the result of this lack of commercial certainty? Unfortunately, it’s budget cuts. When asked about their 2023 budgets, 31 percent of all respondents said they had seen cuts (33 percent agencies, and 22 percent in-house).

Unsurprisingly, 50 percent of those respondents believe this would have been less likely if they could better prove commercial relevance. Breaking that figure down clearly shows the correlation between impact proof and budget decisions, with 75 percent of agency respondents and 25 percent of in-house respondents in the UK agreeing with that statement, alongside 79 percent of agency respondents and 21 percent of in-house pros surveyed in the USA. 

“These findings show how PR practitioners are putting more time into measurement and evaluation, but the lack of a common approach is costing us credibility,” said Alastair McCapra, CIPR CEO, in a news release. “With one in three PR budgets being cut and a sluggish economy, we need to be more effective than ever in telling our story, and communicating the impact and value of our work.” 

Most impactful measurement challenges

When asked about the biggest challenges they face in measurement, 54 percent of all respondents cited a lack of a universal measurement framework, while 52 percent mentioned a lack of measurement tools. These findings underscore the urgent need for tools that simplify measurement and reporting, making it easier for PR professionals to demonstrate the value of their work.

“The truth is everybody needs to level up on telling the story of their impact; how their work correlates to organizational impact—the stuff leadership and boards actually care about. We know this is happening in small pockets, there are some case studies of PR measurement already,” said Gary Preston, CEO & co-founder at CoverageBook, in the release. “But only a few can afford dedicated teams with Python, Excel & Data viz skills to do the job. Our aim is to democratize PR measurement for everyone to start having credible impact stories.”

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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