Today’s challenge might not be that top-tier executives are unconvinced of the high value of PR. The struggle could be within the profession itself.
It’s Communications Week in New York, and one panel moderator posed the question, “Is PR dead?” Surely, he was trying to get a rise out of the audience and his fellow panelists (who answered with a resounding “no”), but the question was appreciated.
PR is not dead. It’s more vibrant and essential than ever.
The value of public relations garners much discussion among communicators. Whereas marketing can point to direct-response efforts, PR has always struggled with the metrics.
As Michael O’Brien, president of client relations for Ketchum, noted, “Math is not a four-letter word.” It’s time for PR practitioners to sharpen their pencils and prove that PR is a must-have, not just nice to have.
Moving beyond vanity metrics and putting a more meaningful value on what PR brings to the business should be the goal for all PR professionals, whether at a corporation, agency or nonprofit. Ad value equivalencies, loathed by many but often used as a default, might have driven us to this point of uncertainty.
It’s about understanding business and the business—being fluent enough to hold a conversation with the CFO, the CEO or the advisor hired by corporate—and having a solid grasp of the sector or vertical space in which your company or client operates.
“We need to speak the language of the C-suite,” said Sandra Fathi, CEO and founder of Affect PR, and a speaker at Communications Week. “It is not a direct line to dollars in and dollars out,” but savvy communicators should know how to package their goods.
To wit: that meeting with the CEO in which the communicator is talking about share of voice and all the CEO wants to hear about is sales. Who knew?
At conferences far and wide, communicators bridge any gaps among them when it comes to professing the power of public relations to build, sustain and elevate corporate and personal reputations.
Speakers at Communications Week agreed that the talent within PR departments and at agencies has drastically changed from just a few years ago. Those with a background in finance, data and accounting or with creative/graphic design experience are powerful additions to a team. As are thinkers and provocateurs.
“Build relentlessly curious teams,” said Tara Naughton, executive VP and managing director at MWWPR. “Your team needs to ask ‘what if’?”
With the trove of data and the user-friendly technology most communicators now have at their fingertips, it’s up to PR to live and breathe by the metrics that matter to the business at large, and then to communicate those results in a language that makes sense to top executives.
“We shouldn’t be asking for a seat at the table anymore,” said O’Brien. “Our actions should demand a seat.”
Diane Schwartz is CEO of Ragan Communications.