Adam Ritchie is moderating our Oct. 30 panel called Communications Results: Data CMOs Want. This topic arose from a recent conversation thread on LinkedIn that hit a nerve and generated its own dialog, revealing a debate with questions about what CMOs and CCOs find valuable in PR results data. There is a lot to be said about how to distinguish PR data that ties to a true business impact vs data that is not much more than conflated data points intended to justify work and budgets. Ahead of this exciting program, Ritchie provided some excellent insight.
Q1: Could you share a time you noticed the consequences of inaccurate PR results reporting?
When a new client said a previous agency earned at least 100 pieces of coverage within a day of every press release, we knew they were referencing what PRWeb calls “pickup,” what Business Wire calls, “syndication” and what PRNewswire calls “distribution.” These are content partnerships between news wires and news sites, where press releases are published verbatim on backdoor areas of the sites, invisible to any browsing consumer and should never be passed off as real results. It confuses clients, leads them to believe coverage happens at the push of a button and makes what we do appear commoditized.
Q2: How can PR professionals improve their results reporting?
Most clients know when they’re being served fluff, and unfortunately some of them have come to expect a certain degree of it from their agency partners. PR professionals have to resist taking the easy road offered by their own vendors, and not pass unbelievable metrics along to their clients. Clients need to hold agencies accountable for metrics that look too good to be true. Focus on quality. Quality of concept, outlet, message, visual and tone, tracking to agreed-on organizational priorities – and ultimately quality of outcomes.
Q3: How far into an organization should PR reporting go?
A mentor once said, “Merchandise up until you get your hand slapped.” If you’re reporting something big, take it all the way to the top of the organization. PR can’t afford to get bottlenecked internally. CEOs and colleagues need to know why a powerful result happened and which part of the strategy brought it about. Don’t save it for regular check-ins; insightful, immediate, shareable reporting is some of the best reporting you can do.
Q4: What is the biggest measurement challenge in PR today?
In consumer product PR, the biggest measurement challenge is Amazon’s influence on lifestyle media. Most major news outlets are now part of Amazon’s affiliate network, and receive a portion of sales when a reader clicks through their coverage and buys an Amazon product. Editors are insisting on only using an Amazon link when they cover a brand, rather than backlinking to a client’s website. Amazon hoards all of this inbound conversion data, creating a blind spot in PR’s ability to prove its effectiveness. At a time when quantifiable results are top-of-mind, PR’s direct impact on sales is getting cut out of the picture.
Q5: How do you feel about the industry’s renewed emphasis on measurement?
The obsession with data and metrics, paired with the urge to quantify everything, is not good for brands. The numbers are being prioritized above the spirit of the work. Some people call it paralysis by analysis; I call it the fetishization of measurement. The best campaigns – the things that people in companies look back on as their proudest moments and the boldest, most adventurous moves they made – the things that earn respect for the PR profession – most of them would never have happened if someone got too hung up on measurement at the outset. You can’t afford to be anti-measurement, but measurement needs to take a back seat to concept if you want to do something great.
Adam Ritchie is an industry disrupter in the best sense of the word, redefining the impact of being an independent practitioner handling top-tier brands. This past year he has set a 50-university philanthropic speaking goal to drive a conversation about how the PR profession can and should reinvent itself. He recently discussed with PRWeek this very topic of producing results data that is ethical, accurate and strengthens PR’s reputation. Adam’s agency has been recognized with many coveted industry awards in recent years. He is a graduate of the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.