PR Vital Signs: Maturity and The New Dashboard
Dr. Bill Nichols - 012 – 29 January 2013
It’s one thing to measure, say, reputation: quite another to understand and manipulate what influences that metric. And for all the brouhaha about PR evaluation, here there is silence. More or less.
For some answers,Vital Signs Report (2014) publishes today. The first in a benchmark series, its insights flow from my recent collaboration with leading tech PR firm, EML Wildfire (1). Its data is provided by some 80 clients and contacts across the firm’s network in the UK, US and Europe.
Unusually, we assessed the combined impact of in-house and agency teams: i.e. the total PR competency. From the literature (2), we identified 10 possible factors or influences. And we concluded by creating a three-part ‘dashboard’ for any PR organisation.
First up – ‘Business Results’ (i.e. leads, sales, profit)
In PR this is the P&L equivalent. It tracks immediate gains and losses. Here our top factor is ‘strategic planning’ (SP). In fact, statistically, it’s the only significant factor that explains a substantial component of ‘Results’ (3). Overall our sample is most positive about near-term SP. It commends teams for such aspects as messaging, business strategy alignment, action plans and focused campaigns.
But our respondents are far more cautious further out. To improve effectiveness, they highlight: applying evidence consistently, sustaining a mission and pursuing long-term advantage.
And? Other factors like creativity or techniques? Actually not much else has any impact. Sobering given all the chat.
Second up – target ‘Reputation’
We see reputation as the ‘balance sheet’ equivalent. The long-term tracking of net PR assets on the PR dashboard. Here two factors are in play.
First, and unsurprisingly, ‘relationship orientation’ is the strongest influence on reputation. Attitudinally – the soft stuff – our teams are particularly well-placed. They are, our sample reports, committed. They seek authenticity. They respect stakeholders and they will ‘go the extra mile’. But they’re less effective at the practical execution of relationship-building. Such as the analysis of broader perspectives, dynamic tracking of the influencer landscape and (again!) planning.
Second and intriguingly, limited evidence suggests that PR’s prized ability to generate ‘opportunistic’ activity may be a negative influence on reputation. Short-term results gain: long-term reputational pain.
Third, bonus ball – ‘Maturity’
Our study also introduces a third lead measure: maturity. It’s the equivalent of cash-flow and it’s a potentially major contribution suggested by the EML Wildfire team. Maturity is a well-established construct in organisational studies. Operationally it’s best characterised by that PR jewel: the ability to manage the unexpected and to cope with ambiguity.
To create a clear blueprint for managing maturity, we identified three factors at work. They are professionalism, engagement and, especially, leadership. Specifically maturity deepens as PR seniors acquire serious leadership skills and, above all, the confidence to play an active role at the C-Level.
As business gurus confirm, the act of measurement adds value if – and only if – it helps define and deliver a desirable outcome. Such as, in PR, a behavioural change. This presupposes we understand the mechanism. That we know what and how to influence the target. A little more ‘X’, a little less ‘Y’ – that kind of thing.
But, as the Headmaster of Eton observed recently, “we live in an age of measurement and not of enlightenment.” How true of PR. Some cling to the old-time religion of the AVE. Others evangelise Barcelona and the new analytics. In this ‘promised land’ we measure anything – and everything.
But we have little understanding of the influencing factors. Vital Signs Report (2014) offers our starting point. Especially that new measure of maturity. It correlates well with both results and reputation. It may, we think, be the key moderator – a crucial focus for out study’s next round. Join us at EML Wildfire to add your inputs to what is planned as a long-term project.
More to follow and, meantime, here’s to enlightenment!
(2) Based on the Nordic three-dimensional service quality model. So (A) hard/technical = (i) media platform, (ii) measurement and evaluation, (iii) techniques; (B) functional/integrating = (iv) resources/budget, (v) strategic planning, (vi) leadership, (vii) creativity; and (C) people/reputational = (viii) professionalism, (ix) engagement and (x) relationship orientation. Each factor successfully tested using Cronbach’s alpha: eight > .7 and two >.6.
(3) Using the 95% confidence level and multiple regression analysis.