There is no magic formula when it comes to measuring the dollar value of public relations, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to determine whether the PR firm a business is working with is delivering the services its brand needs most.
PR begins with research and finding out about the current relationship and reputation a company’s brand has with its employees, customers, community or shareholders, according to Ginny Seyferth, president of SeyferthPR. From there, the business can create objectives to improve those relationships and develop a way to measure when and if those objectives have been met.
“Recruiting and retaining employees is a big thing that we measure with clients,” Seyferth said. “What’s really interesting in today’s world is we are working a lot not only on the reputation of the company itself but everything around it so they are able to recruit better employees. Some of it is as simple as going into a company’s office and saying, ‘This structure, this culture you have, or this building that you have and the way people work is preventing you from recruiting and retaining employees.’”
Though it’s not directly a communication or PR issue, the PR professional might be the best person to recognize these types of problems that can be hard to identify internally.
One of the biggest problems Seyferth sees are companies so focused on their customers that they forget that, if they don’t understand their employees, they can’t really get to understand their customers.
She pointed to McDonald’s as a good example of a client that focuses on its employees as much as its customers. “McDonald’s has 35,000 employees in the state of Michigan. How they feel about coming to work makes them better people to represent the brand. We are constantly listening to that.”
Businesses also can enhance their reputation and relationships with customers by identifying their needs and habits. Seyferth points to McDonald’s understanding that third-shift employees need food options in the middle of the night, so it offers 24-hour service.
When evaluating the employee or customer relationship with the brand, there are several types of studies her firm might conduct.
“We do gap research, reputation research, informal surveys where we will send someone into the restaurant to talk to customers, customer engagement conversations.”
Seyferth said conducting these studies helped McDonald’s to realize its reputation within the communities it serves, and that it often is recognized as a leader within smaller communities. As a result, the restaurant committed to nearly 160 community events to continue to engage with customers.
Both employees and customers can become powerful brand advocates, spreading the brand’s message and attributes across many channels.
“At the end of the day, you have to start with research, but then you have to evaluate ‘did we improve your relationship with us as a brand?’ Ultimately, what we try to do is build confidence, trust. It’s a trust bank with a lot of recommended deposits along the way. Then we measure if that trust bank is sustainable. What happens if it isn’t? People switch brands.”
Social media, though scary for some companies, is one of the greatest resources for brands, because it offers immediate feedback. Companies can quickly engage with customers, reach out to those who may have had a negative experience and turn the situation into a positive outcome by the way it handles that engagement.
Though there are many tools being developed to try and measure the impact of social media, there isn’t anything that can relay if it’s a positive or negative reaction.
“What analytics do really well is help you measure noise. I’m not sure that they measure the shaping of opinion yet. … I don’t know that anybody has come up with a formula to say if you hit at this many times, it will shape public opinion on your company. But I put that in the category of us measuring media hits. I think that it is good for a company to understand that, but it should not be driving their plan. It’s one piece.”
Another piece is developing an issues management plan, which Seyferth said is different than a crisis management plan.
“Have a plan to manage issues so they do not become crises. Bigger companies have to have crisis management plans, but I would say all companies need to have a strategic plan: ‘How are we going to manage issues?’”
Policies for possible scenarios are one of the best ways to be prepared and be able to avoid a crisis. For a company creating a product, this might involve policies developed around a “pull plan” in case a product needs to be removed from store shelves. Or, a school district should have a policy for when officials will notify parents if a specific situation arises, such as a student bringing a gun to school or if a bomb threat is called in.
PR firms offer more than increased media hits and influencing analytics, they also offer a detailed understanding of a company’s position in the opinion polls and a route to improving relationships and reputation.
“The thing that helps businesses the most in today’s world is to understand that they have to listen and they have to monitor what’s out there,” Seyferth said. “There are opinions being shaped about their organization, good or bad — or even that they don’t even exist. Understanding not what the media are saying, but what the (people) that you care about are saying about you needs to be job number one in any business.
“It’s not just about measuring how many people clicked on their site; it’s about measuring what they think about you if they clicked on your site.”