It’s a given – in our data-driven age it’s a challenge to show the real business value of public relations. While some are still relying on controversial metrics, like Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE), others rely solely on metric counts: likes, tweets or followers, without measuring true engagement and outcomes (like social shares, website conversions or increase in sales for example).
To top it all off, PR efforts are not always correctly acknowledged and therefore rewarded, as it can take several variables and touchpoints before closing a sale. Given these uncertainties, we are sometimes confronted with mistaken views of PR efforts. According to a recent study*, 2 out of 3 companies believe that social media has limited impact on sales. In short, social media influence strategies would not result in real business opportunities…
Let’s put this misconception to rest with a few key facts all PR pros should know.
1/ PR & business growth go together
PR professionals should begin to think more positively about their role as a business source. This is not their main responsibility, certainly, but they do have a voice in the marketplace…
In the word-of-mouth era, reputation is everything: this is the most influential and trusted driver of purchasing decisions. What consumers feel and say about a product or brand is a make-or-break factor for successful business.
Given the context, public relations are in a unique position to generate awareness and credibility in the business lifecycle. More than ever, PR’s key goals (building brand awareness and thought leadership) support lead generation and sales, and have a powerful role to play in product positioning. So, the best way to get new customers is by reaching their influencers and understanding their ecosystem. Brand advocates are a winning formula for success when it comes to PR strategies because of the word of mouth they generate.
2/ Return on Social Engagement is real
Does social media really have an impact on sales? Despite what everyone may be telling you, social media users are increasingly going to social media channels before making purchase decisions.
Traditional media have partly lost their power in favour of the social media-connected crowd. Point of view articles, newsletters, guestblogging, collaborative plateforms…: more and more communications fields are open to professionals so that they can express their views and market analysis. Of course, their branding strategies directly influence purchasing decisions.
New media platforms also generate concrete business results for companies, leveraging their product exposure. Product tests and comparisons, consumer opinions and feedback, new product releases…: Previously limited to niche supports (professional press or customer organisations), these items can be now easily searched for on the web by customers at the time of purchase.
In the e-business area, websites with a good social presence are more shared and easiest to recommend. Conversations based on common passions allow companies to reach their audience more accurately and at the right time. Social discovery will also keep brands on top of customer’s mind, earn ‘social credit’ from potential customers and increase sales!
3/ Better PR measurement means breaking down the silos
The lack of measurement in communications departments is often a barrier to recognising their impact on actions from a ‘business’ perspective. Hence the need for PR pros to equip themselves, to overcome this lack of visibility.
“Traditional PR measurement of “eyeballs” is meaningless unless this awareness results in influence and engagement. Likewise, conversion without sales is an incomplete marketing metric.” (Kantar Media News Intelligence) 
In order to account for all of the ways target audiences engage with brands, PR should be integrated into the sales mix. It’s also useful to work closely with other areas of web, marketing and sales to have access to data that may not be easily accessible. Thus, better overall outcomes can be achieved when the PR strategy isn’t approached in a siloed manner.
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4- Measurement leads for greater efficiency and better decision-making
One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to PR is the uselessness of ROI. Some companies tend to think of measurement as an afterthought. This is a cultural issue. Yet, as the volume of social conversations grows in the future, gathering intelligence through social listening will become essential. PR specialists will have to listen to understand the nature of their brand’s reputation and its evolution. Incorporating measurement into the planning process will lead to more focused, and more effective communication strategies. Whether part of an agency division, or for clients, PR pros will need to bring measurement front and center.
How do news stories impact competitors, and how do influencers benefit business? More than just reporting on results, measurement offers communications pros insights to understand who their customers are, what products and services they are looking for, and what content is of interest to them. They can also learn what influences them to purchase or make a recommendation at any given moment in the purchase life cycle.
A provider can also identify the conversations – positive or negative, as well as the actual emotion it arouses – to determine if the news is bound to become viral and if it represents a threat for the brand reputation.
5/ Understanding how PR can help your business objectives is key
How much influence does your brand have? Are you the main media’s go-to industry expert? Is your name the first one that comes to mind when someone needs the services or products you provide?
Let’s get back to first principles: setting measurable business objectives. Measuring conversion by source with analytical tools such as Google Analytics; impact of media relations on direct visits and brand searches; connection between ‘likes’ and sales… Even if one of the primary measurements in PR is reach and growth in awareness, we should also quantify those figures for a business objective (sales, revenue, etc.).
Has your number of clients or sales increased or decreased? How many leads – inquiries or follow-ups – resulted in actual clients or sales? No matter what business you’re in and how mainstream or how niche your market is, you shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t ask yourself how your business can move forward!
 MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR NEW SHIFTING ROLES, Kantar Media News Intelligence (White Paper)