PR’s Top Pros Talk… Using Information Management to Understand Communications Objectives
Mark Weiner, Chief Insights Officer, PublicRelay
How can communicators use research to set communications objectives that are reasonable, meaningful, and measurable? Understand their communications objectives? And, once they’re set, how do communications professionals apply what they learn to meet or beat those objectives? Mark Weiner, Chief Insights Officer at PublicRelay, recommends conducting an Executive Audit to uncover the often-hidden value equation that senior executives apply to evaluate PR value and performance. He also recommends proactive research to inform communications decisions and to demonstrate – and generate – PR value and ROI. Mark also asserts that public relations is a cyclical process rather than linear, and demonstrates this as he walks through the PR continuum which helps communicators identify the best target audience and the media they read, watch and listen to; to reinforce the messages that work best (and remediate underperformers); to evaluate performance for continuous improvement. This and more!
Mark is the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights,” one of BookAuthority.com’s top 100 PR books in history and a top ten “must read” for 2022. We’ve arranged a special discount for our followers. Get your copy of PR Technology, Data and Insights here. Use KoganPage20 to get 20% off.
>> More episodes here
>> Also available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and others.
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: MARK WEINER
DOUG: In your book, “PR Technology, Data and Insights,” Mark, which we’re showing right here. You say, “begin simply, simply begin.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
MARK: Sure, that that came to me from a chalkboard in front of an Ojai, California, coffee shop that changed its message every day, then message. And it struck me that this is, this applies to what I do, in that communicators think that research is too complicated, too sophisticated, too expensive for them. And it struck me that this saying applied to me and to our profession that instead of overcomplicating out of the gate, begin simply, simply begin. And in the book, there are recommendations for simple methods, simple counting even, that will help to reinforce a measurement and evaluation mindset. And then as the users become more sophisticated and the recipients of that research began to understand the unique contribution public relations can make through quantifiable performance, budgets will increase, resources will expand, and the position of public relations within the organization will evolve.
DOUG: Yeah, one of the things I really liked about it was you’re advising companies to first take a look at to what extent they’re using technology and data to really understand the business environment for them. And by phrasing it that way, it’s not like you must do this 100%, it aligns with begin simply because wait, are they doing it to 10%, 25%, 50%? How do they go about doing that?
MARK: Understanding the organization’s position and its landscape begins with, it can be free. I would expect most communicators are already aware of the organization’s objectives. And what we recommend is called an executive audit, which can be done using your own resources. I think it works better when there’s a third party to ensure objectivity and confidentiality. That’s one aspect to understand from the executives who have some influence over public relations, performance evaluation, and public relations resource allocation. To ask them a series of questions which I think appear in the book also about the degree to which public what’s important for public relations to do, and how does public relations perform relative to competitors within the category? That’s one element. That’s the key, in my opinion, to proving value. Is understanding the value equation that’s often hidden within organizations. The other aspects are more environmental. To look at competitors, whether it’s media coverage to the degree that you can discover their objectives, at least on their website, where they often appear. And for those organizations that have the resources, this information can be gathered through social media, through traditional media, and through surveys of these different audience stakeholders.
DOUG: Yeah, let me jump in with a quick question, because one of the challenges you talk about is making sure that those objectives are measurable. How do you go about doing that, especially if you’re starting out by beginning simply, simply beginning? How do you make them measurable?
MARK: Let me answer it slightly, maybe in an unexpected way. You and I have been judges of PR competitions for decades together, and in those instructions, there are elements that require quantifiable data to ensure that there was an objective, a measurable objective, and that in the end, that campaign or that program met or beat the objective. And yet, this is my experience, 70% of those submissions are eliminated parametrization because they have objectives in their life, generating significant buzz. So, there are questions about what buzz even is, and when do you suddenly tip over to significant? This is insignificant and this is significant. There’s no way to break through the media clutter. So, in other words, there’s no way to know whether the program succeeded or not. Measurable objectives can be simple in terms of make it count things that you can manage on your own in-house. How many stories? If you have the resources in-house to count the number of positive versus negative things. In those executive audits that I was describing a moment ago, executive responses to the most important aspects of PR fit this model of reasonable, meaning, and measurable. And it’s a bell curve in the center of the most popular answers. And this has been true through many thousands of interviews with senior executives for profits, not for profits, international, domestic, the whole gamut. And what comes out on top is delivering positive key messages to target audiences and raising awareness in the center. In the middle section are things like quality completion of projects or meeting and beating objectives or beating the competition. For that section, you don’t need sophisticated metrics. At the bottom of things like clip counting and add value, which is reasonable and measurable but means nothing. And when given a choice, these executives recognize that it means nothing. On the far end are measures like driving sales or driving the stock price, which is really meaningful, which is hard to measure, and so not particularly reasonable. And the purpose of this survey, it only involved maybe 30 key decision makers is to foster the one-on-one conversations that are required to achieve a compromise. So, to get these people who want clip counts and get these people who want sales, attributable sales to sort of meet in the middle. And that’s a way of starting simply, beginning simply and simply beginning is one way to start is to understand the landscape in which you’re operating and then design measurement programs or what’s reasonable or affordable given your resources or if management feels strongly enough about these more esoteric measures than they have to fund it. And if they do, then they got results.
DOUG: It’s a win for everyone. And, you know, that reminds me, I wouldn’t question your data accuracy in saying we’ve been judging events and knowing each other for decades, but just for clarity, we don’t go as far back as the cave painters that you’ve referenced in your book, but I do want to talk next about part two of your book.
MARK: It’s all relative, Doug. To a lot of people, I think we are cave painters.
DOUG: Speak for yourself, I’m not going there. The second part of your book talks about the PR continuum. What do you mean by that?
MARK: You’ve described two elements that precede this continuum. These are the landscape analysis that I describe, which leads to setting measurable objectives. And then there’s a strategy element. Strategy, in my opinion, is an overused term, but it means message development and targeting. If you have those two elements, then you can know the media that you’re targeting, the people you’re trying to reach, and what you seek to say to those people. The continuum kicks in once you have that and there’s an event, an event, maybe a new product announcement that may be whatever people announced. It begins with the targeting exercise that was part of the strategy development. So, we know which media we’re seeking to reach. There’s a production element which you’re familiar with that involves either writing a press release, producing an SMT, and then there’s a distribution. So, now we’re moving around the continuum, there’s distribution. And since public relations is only semi-controllable, unlike advertising, we need to monitor to see whether or the extent to which these messages appeared in our preferred media or in any media at all, and the degree to which those messages appeared at all within the context. So, we know that journalists have a role to meet journalistic standards. That often means presenting both sides of the story, whereas social media is more direct, but for traditional media, it may be that there are opposing opinions, and it could be that those opposing opinions are more powerful than your own intended messaging. So, now that we’re about halfway around the continuum and we have monitor, then we analyze what we’ve gathered to see the degree and measure the degree to which those messages appeared, the degree to which they were positive, or natural, or negative, the degree to which our competitors appeared in that content, and then the final step in the continuum is to apply what we’ve learned for continuous improvement. And so that way the continuum continues with it through every cycle. We should be getting smarter and smarter about our target audiences, t our distribution, and our findings, and how we interpret those findings, but it also may affect the underlying strategy. That could be that some of these objectives that management wants are unrealistic. And over time it’s proven that maybe these attributes are not associated with our company, and we need to take a slightly different position. But typically, strategy and targeting last for years and years. So, that’s what I mean by the communications continuum is that it’s a cycle. Some people think of public relations as a linear process with a beginning and an end. I would suggest that we learn through every cycle and improve through every cycle, so we get better and better over time.
DOUG: Yeah, and I think that people who take your advice will be well served. In addition to being one of the nicest guys in our industry, you’re also one of the most thoughtful. And you’ve also been kind enough to those who watch this segment all the way through to offer us a discount code with the post If people want to check out your new book. Congrats on the book. We really appreciate having you on the show, thanks for everything.
MARK: Well, you’re welcome. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to your viewers and listeners. We’ll post the discount code after the event. I’m also very proud to say that Book Authority.com has named this book along with my first book, among the 100 most important PR books in history. And this book was named this new book was named one of the top five books to read in 2022. So, that’s very gratifying.
DOUG: Great. Well, congratulations on that. And we’re hoping we can push you to number one. Thanks for joining us.
MARK: Thank you, okay.