Oct 31, 2013

Measurement & Connection: Takeaways from the PRSA International Conference

Brian Solis maps the future of PR. Image via Vanessa Bravo (@vanessabravoCR)

Brian Solis maps the future of PR. Image via Vanessa Bravo (@vanessabravoCR)

This year’s PRSA International Conference in Philadelphia reprised many themes common to public relations, but with a new twist.  The influences of social media, content marketing and digital marketing measurement were common threads, linking discussions about pitching, strategy and measurement.  There’s a good reason for this – digital activities are incredibly measurable, and our peers in marketing gleaning spectacular amounts of insight about audience interests and behavior from their data, and that data is impacting other communications practices.

Communications success starts and ends with the audience.

“If you keep trying to earn relevance, you will always matter,” said Brian Solis in his keynote, summarizing neatly what many other presenters before him emphasized.  Developing understanding of what your audience is interested in, and using that context as the framework for brand messages, is the key to creating content that people will read, share with their social networks, and act upon.

However, developing understanding of the audience requires us to get comfortable with data analysis, noted Stephen Loudermilk (@loudyoutloud), director, media and industry analyst relations, LexisNexis, in his presentation titled, “Using Big Data and Analytics to Increase PR and Marketing Brand Awareness.”  According to a stat from Ragan Communications, 54% of PR people don’t know what big data is.  This is disconcerting, as another study titled “Analytics: The New Path to Value,” conducted jointly by the MIT Sloan Management Review and IBM Institute for Business Value, revealed that top performing organizations use analytics five times more than lower performing organizations.

Social amplification of content matters.

Brian Solis noted that 77% of consumers are more likely to buy a product when it’s recommended by an advocate, and we all know that social networks are hotbeds of personal connections and recommendations. However, there’s another important reason why developing relevant social interaction with PR content should be a priority. Seven of the top ten search engine ranking factors according to a study this summer by SearchMetrics are derived from social interaction.  

When you think about it, this isn’t surprising.  If a network of savvy, connected people with a similar interest all find a piece of content valuable, and they share that content with their personal networks, it’s easy to see how those actions can be interpreted by search engines as a measure of the value of that content.

Link PR to real business outcomes

“As PR pros, we need to recalibrate our thinking to understand how what we’re doing helps achieve one or more of these things,” insisted Shonali Burke (@shonali) in her session with Heidi Sullivan (@hksully) titled, “Building Your Bottom Line: Integrated Communications Strategies That Work. “We need to ask ourselves: What are we trying to do, and why is it important?”

It’s also time to stop reaching for equivalencies in measurement strategies.  There was some talk about “ad cost equivalencies” supplanting AVEs as a metric PR should be tallying.   However, ACEs (and AVEs) both fail to quantify the value of recommendation and reputation that a good PR message also conveys.  For this reason, and because digital media are incredibly measurable, I believe that PR should focus on linking communications activities to business outcomes, and learn how to correlate ongoing activities and interactions with those outcomes.

Evolving media platforms …. Is PR keeping up?

My own session was devoted to the evolution of media models and news coverage, and what PR needs to do to keep up with those developments.  Media outlets are developing apps, creating infographics and shooting video on the fly.  We have to ask ourselves if we’re providing the right sort of data and content that will work in these evolved presentations of news.  Failing to do so means that our brands will miss valuable opportunities for exposure.

The setting in Philadelphia provided a nice analogue for public relations.  On the one hand, Philly is steeped in history and tradition; however, it’s far from stagnant.   The city has reinvented itself as a foodie and culture mecca, inviting new demographics to discover what it offers.    There are good lessons in Philly’s success for the practice of public relations.

For some additional ideas on developing relevant public relations and marketing content for your organization, download my free ebook, “Driving Content Discovery.” In it you’ll find tips, examples and ideas for improving the discoverability of your content by making it more timely and relevant to your audiences.

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of content marketing, and is the author of  the newly-published ebook  New School Press Release TacticsFollow her on Twitter at @sarahskerik.


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