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Value Vs Volume – Why evaluating efficacy of PR communication needs to change

For a very long time now, Public Relations has been an endless chase for the maximum press coverage for one’s clients. Hence, the carpet bombing of press releases across media organisations. And clients measure the efficacy of the PR firm based on the number of press clippings facilitated by the firm. Every journalist will remember being approached by PR professionals multiple times to cover news/ release about their client, without first checking whether the news is relevant or not to the journalist and her publication.

There are winds of change in the PR space today, with a conscious move to have a more qualitative approach to keeping clients in the news. It boils down to working on an effective campaign strategy based on relevant and strong consumer insights that will create interest and ignite the minds of one’s core audience. The purpose should be to closely engage and educate one’s audience and build credibility with a well-substantiated messaging that can help shape the desired opinion about the brand/ client. Measurements and impact come later, but what stands out is the strong idea, the right positioning and the relevance of the communication that make the PR campaign effective.

Measurement in PR has always been a subject of debate and there has been no concrete solution for it so far. The most common measurement matrix that the industry has been following is calculating the advertising value (AVR) of the media coverage for a PR campaign. But that does not present the true picture in terms of evaluation. Hence, the industry needs to look more at the qualitative parameters and figure how these could be computed in the overall effectiveness of the campaign.

Making a strong case for quality over quantity, Himanshu Raj, Head - Brand and Policy Communications, Mobile Premier League (MPL), said, “I absolutely believe that we should focus on the quality of coverage rather than quantity. Quality media stories can create a much larger impact for a brand than just a large volume of coverage. One of the objectives of any communication strategy is to reach out to different kinds of audiences such as investors, regulators, policymakers, consumers, and so on. So, it is imperative to know your business goals before coming up with a communication strategy.”

Continuing further, he said, “In fact, an important component to setting up your communication strategy is aligning your business goals and your audience. Once you define your audience, you’ll know which publication/ platform to target. Apart from the media, one should look at events, speaker opportunities, podcasts, and other interesting platforms to tell a compelling brand story.”

“Another way to move towards quality coverage is to relook at your KPIs. We need to move away from vanity KPIs like AVE, the number of clips, coverage share of voice and look at quality metrics like tone, impact score, sentiment analysis, etc.,” Raj affirmed.

Tackling the evaluation and measurement of PR campaigns is always challenging. The Barcelona Principles provide PR professionals with a more scientific approach to measure the PR campaigns. Anup Sharma, Independent Communications Consultant, noted that with the changing media consumption habits, how PR professionals demonstrate the effectiveness of their work has also shifted significantly in the past decade. “Considering that not all PR impact can be directly quantifiable, it is important that before starting a PR campaign, the broad objectives are set. With the work scope of Public Relations firms growing beyond just a media management relation, not every aspect of communication outreach being managed by the PR firm can be quantitatively measured. It is important to note that all outputs have an impact on the outcomes, which support key business objectives and strengthen the company’s bottom line,” he added.

Sharma further said, “For traditional media coverage, in addition to the quantitative measurement, the key is to consider qualitative outcomes which can analyse the content (key messages) of the media coverage. And for the social media & online coverage, in addition to measuring awareness and engagement through the number of likes, comments, retweets, replies and shares, the key is to evaluate how these likes and shares turn into business objectives.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Founder, Brand Balance, who has cut his teeth in this industry and who has been deeply involved in the measurement front for a long time, felt that this situation is a “double whammy of uninformed perception” of what PR can do and the introduction of AVE/ EAVs.

Elaborating on this, Mukherjee said, “Clients and PR firms often do not get enough time to find the answer to the basic question – ‘Why are we doing this PR activity?’. All these years, PR has suffered being generalised as news dispatch and management desk. It was not perceived as a communications tool, which can not only address brand objectives but also support clients’ balance sheet. Hence, the convenient way of showing value has been to churn out as many press releases as possible and carpet bomb those releases across all relevant or irrelevant media vehicles. This is what leads to the generation of volume as against value. What made this a double whammy was the introduction and blind faith in AVE/ EAVs as a unit of measurement.”

To change the current situation from volume to value, a genetic change is needed. The only solution for this change is to introduce the matrix of Account & Media Planning. Traditionally, these disciplines have been associated with the paid industry. It is time to extend its benefits to PR and Corporate Communications as well.

Rigorous orientation and training programmes – at education institutes, within PR Firms, and Corp Comm – need to be designed and run round the year to bring in the desired change.

“Things have started changing, and a small section currently (around 5-10% of the industry), both the Corp Comm and PR firms have initiated a positive disruption of sorts by thinking and speaking the language of Account & Media Planning. The need to involve and encourage more of account and media planning will be healthier and definitely help in growing the industry,” Mukherjee emphasised.

Balancing out the Value Vs Volume aspect, Chetan Mahajan, CEO, The Mavericks, remarked, “When volume complements value, under certain situations it can achieve the desired outcome quickly and efficiently. The communications strategy here has to be crafted keeping multiple factors in mind, including brand lifecycle, category, country, complexity, and context, etc. A young brand in a very competitive landscape (like fintech) needs a combination of value and volume, whereas a matured brand must focus on just value. In a crisis, like miscommunication around the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, both value and volume are important, particularly in a country like India, where the media landscape is so dispersed and language diversity adds totally different dimension to mass outreach. Likewise, a campaign for a super mass-market brand will benefit more from a combination of volume and value than value alone. A classic example here would be the difference between Apple and Xiaomi’s communications strategy. Whereas for a premium brand volume there is no substitute to value, a B2B brand must focus on value while B2C needs to be aggressive with volume in value. In my opinion, the debate has now moved on to the intensity and frequency of volume within value v/s less is more. It’s about quality with volume.”

“While ideally quality precedes quantity, one may not necessarily need to trade-off one for the other,” opined Sharmilee Daru, Founder and Director at Sharmilee Daru Consulting - PR and Communication. According to Daru, it largely depends on brand need and strategy at a particular point of time. Quantity might work for short term attention or if it needs to percolate to a certain segment or region for more buzz and reach based on product/ service. “However, for the long term, I believe quality should form the basis for action, building brand perception and laying the foundation for strong reputation and image. This goes a long way while delivering message and value to the audience,” she added.

She further said, “Having said that, in the case of quantity PR, it is necessary to ensure that it fits the requirement. India has an overly crowded and competitive work environment, hence the use of quantity PR often is assumed to help create a dent in the media ecosystem. The lack of client knowledge and understanding of PR, too, contributes to this approach often. Understanding the difference and educating the clients on possibilities, while managing quality messaging to fit the right channels, could be a way to overcome the volume vs value concern.”

Komal Lath, Founder, Tute Consult, opined, “The focus of any PR campaign should be in getting the right message across the right channel. It’s high time that as an industry we stop talking about coverage and start focusing on the messaging. By messaging, we mean, conversations that catalyse desirable consumer actions and behavioural change. In order to drive a behavioural change, you need frequency and a constant reminder. So, it is not about volume versus value, we at Tute believe in delivering ‘valuable volume’ for our clients.”

Watch out for Adgully’s #TwitterChat this Friday, June 18, 2021, on ‘Value Vs Volume Game in PR’, as leading industry experts delve deep to chart the communications course for the PR industry in the new normal.

(Edited and additional inputs by Shanta Saikia)

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