Measurability in Public Relations: A Perspective

19 February 2019

Areas of business study such as sales, marketing, production, and distribution offer clear data about its growth and performance leaving limited margin for error. In other words, they are measurable. Public relations (PR) on the other hand, presents a different ball game. It has no qualified unit of measurement, considering its main outcome is ‘credibility’. PR as a communication medium, offers a subjective yet effective means to create brand recognition and engagement as well.
PR as a craft has introduced certain methods in terms of measuring the impact resulting from campaigns. For instance, ‘sentiment analysis’ monitors the real-time emotional tone behind the attitudes, opinions, and emotions expressed by audiences while ‘share of voice’ compares a company’s media mentions to those of their competitors. In addition, certain media monitoring tools accurately report which media outlets and social media users mention a brand and its products on various platforms. Other commonly used tools include AVE or Advertising Value Equivalent, Media Audits, Market Research, etc. These are some of the methods that are presently in vogue when it comes to measurement of PR campaigns.
PR plays a fundamental role in the Executive Communications of the company, considering that it is one of the flag bearers of credibility when it comes to communication campaigns. How then does one quantify the impact of a PR campaign especially when it is deployed in a crisis situation to manage the reputation of a brand. There are many examples of crisis situations faced by brands such as Maggie more recently, Cadburys or Johnson and Johnson for its hip implants. Let us look at the Cadburys worm infestation crisis that shook the brand about a decade ago.

How Cadbury’s took on Worm Infestation with PR

Apart from professing the strengths of a brand, a PR department or agency also initiates damage control in times of crises. For instance, it was the detailed and critical PR planning on the part of Cadbury that helped them overcome the worm controversy in 2003. Prior to Diwali that particular year, the Food and Drug Administration of India sent a direct statement to the media revealing the infestation in two bars of the brand’s product called Dairy Milk. The negative publicity that occurred (1000 clips in print and 120 clips on broadcast news) derailed their sales by 30%, at a time when their sales also saw a festive spike of 15%. Emerging reports of infestation from across the country resulting from poor storage in remote villages further aggravated the situation for fault of theirs.
Cadbury’s PR strategy involved addressing the issue head-on to restore confidence among its consumers. Previously a low key brand in terms of media relations, they rolled out a phased campaign to convince the media as influencers about the transparency and sincerity of the brand. In addition, one-on-one meetings were organised between the brands spokespeople and media editors even as they reached out to consumers nationally through a press ad in 55 publications and 11 different languages. Cadbury further harnessed the power of an influencer who connected with audiences across groups in the form of veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan. The latter communicated the manufacturing changes the brand had invested on apart from imported packaging machinery. Press conferences were also held in various cities.
Sales volumes climbed back to pre-crisis days within two months of new packaging and communication. It is widely acknowledged that the PR crises management machinery played a huge role remedying the situation and in restoring credibility.

Is Credibility Measurable?

One may wonder at how credibility is measured. The answer to this is indirect and lies in the contribution of communication strategies in media relations, crises management, influencer management, content development, and digital marketing among other areas. Albeit credibility cannot be measured in mean terms, it is nonetheless vital in providing an indirect push towards the sale of products or services. It adds to the long-term value of the brand.

In Conclusion

PR has today grown to become a crucial ingredient of any communication mix. While the format presents its own share of challenges with respect to measurability, one cannot discount the immense value it delivers in terms of credibility and in building word-of-mouth. The answer to overcoming the challenges of measurability lies in developing custom made metrics depending on the brand, the product and the category. While they say PR is not Rocket Science, measuring PR on the contrary is probably a science in itself and one must use a combination of tangible metrics set against business and communication objectives to arrive at the formula.