ITL #555 Being properly valued: why PR people need to change their behaviour

7 months ago

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The PR sector must shift from focusing on what we do, to the business outcome, impact and ROI that matter to the CEO. By Crispin Manners.



I’m writing this article because I see wonderful PR people, both agency and in-house, delivering miracles every day for their organisations – and not getting the recognition or rewards they deserve.

The reason for this is simple. Over the last few decades, PR people have trained themselves, and their clients/colleagues, to focus on activity over outcomes, and on time rather than value. This is a major mistake and has undermined the way that PR, and PR professionals, are perceived.

I believe switching to focusing on value represents the seismic shift that PR needs to both survive and prosper.

There are many reasons for that, but I’d like to highlight the main takeaway from this year’s PWC CEO survey report: 40% of global CEOs think their organisation will no longer be economically viable in 10 years’ time, if it continues on its current course. These CEOs encourage us all to evolve or face extinction.

Every day we make choices that affect how we are perceived. The trouble is that many of those choices are made automatically, or subconsciously, based on the way we have always done things. But the world is changing around us, and it’s time we made some conscious choices that will deliver a brighter future.

Why aren’t PR people valued in the way their real contribution deserves?

The answer lies in Stephen Covey’s quote: ‘What does it matter how much we do, if what we are doing isn’t what matters most.’ Because of the focus on activity over outcomes, much of what PR people do simply doesn’t seem to be what matters most to their organisations.

And the root causes lie in:

  • An unwillingness to guarantee results.
  • A feeling that, because we aren’t the only contributor to an outcome, that our contribution isn’t valuable.
  • A belief that what we do is so amorphous that we can’t calculate what it’s worth.

Given these three factors, it isn’t surprising that we are NOT perceived as positively as we should be.

So, what are the people who have right of veto over whether a PR budget exists or not, looking for in today’s uncertain world? The answer is simple. They want greater certainty of achieving their objectives. And they want certainty of achieving a healthy return on investment from everything they do. They’d rather do nothing than risk wasting time and money on activities that cannot show a cause and effect in advance – a guarantee of success if you like. This attitude is clearly a threat to a sector that is unwilling to guarantee anything.

If a CEO asks what value the organisation is getting from the money it spends on the PR team, or the PR agency, the normal response is likely to be activity-based – like we got some brilliant press coverage. But press coverage is only a step towards something of higher value such as helping the organisation grow, and that’s what the answer should be. Activity based responses are particularly unhelpful now. They increase uncertainty, at a time when there’s a hunt for more certainty.

Before we move any further, I want to accentuate that the shift to value is not a trivial change.

It represents a significant behavioural shift that will take time to become second nature.

There are a number of key words that are central to making this shift. They include:

  • OUTCOMES - Moving from focusing on WHAT you do, to WHY and HOW you do it.
  • CONTRIBUTION - Identifying where you contribute to achieving an outcome and why this is better than alternative methods for achieving the same outcome.
  • VALUE - Crystalising the business or organisational value of that contribution.
  • PROOF - Using data to prove the value of your contribution.
  • IMPROVE - Using data to improve the value of your contribution.

I’m sure you will be familiar with Simon Sinek’s golden circles – they act as a helpful reminder of the change we are talking about. We need to shift from focusing on WHAT we do, to WHY we do it – the Business OUTCOME or IMPACT and ROI that matters to the CEO.

I’d encourage you to think of the shift to value as two main things:

  • Solving a business problem. Most business outcomes are hard to deliver. There are all sorts of barriers in the way – and that’s why the team needs an expert to make the outcome more certain.  You know better than other people on the team how to overcome the barriers. After all, if a football team leaks goals, they hire a great goalkeeper.
  • Generating a business outcome. If a football team wants to become champions, success doesn’t rest on the result of a single game, or individual. It needs multiple contributions over multiple games. It needs a great strategy, that outthinks, then outplays the competition.

So, think about which barriers you are brilliant at overcoming. And identify at which of the many steps on the journey to the outcome, you will provide valuable contributions.

Using business outcomes and business data to prove the value you contribute

Because PR people focus on WHAT they do not WHY they do it, they tend to focus on communications data not business data. This is a potential threat to inhouse team and agency alike.

I once ran a training session attended by two PR people from an online betting company. When I got to the need to share data, the PR manager said: ‘Why would I share data with my agency? All I ask them to do is secure links in online coverage that enable online betters to visit our website. They don’t need any data; they just need to hit the link target I set them.’ As you can see this is a classic WHAT level brief, where the WHY behind the WHAT hadn’t been established. If the CEO had written the brief, it may have said: ‘Help us hit our revenue targets by attracting more highly engaged betters.

If the in-house and agency PR team had been focusing on the value of their work – the outcome the CEO valued – it would have been vital for them to understand what each link contributed to the business. Access to this information would enable the PR team to evaluate which publications and which messages delivered the highest contribution to the company and change their approach accordingly so they improved the return on investment for the company. This shifts the focus from counting outputs to identifying the value of the contribution.

I asked the PR manager why data about link performance wasn’t shared, and she said firstly, because the agency had never asked and secondly because they were measured by the number of links NOT what the links contributed. In other words, it didn’t matter what the link delivered just that it existed!

With the right data the PR team could prove that their work contributed tangible value. It’s a lot easier to be seen as valuable, if you help generate £10 million, than if you deliver 100 links. The whole outcome won’t be down to you, but it’s now much easier to make visible the essential part you played and the significant share you delivered. 

Unless you make the value you contribute EXPLICIT, your organisation will think they are paying for PR activity, not helping to generate a priority business outcome. With the right data you can finally be properly valued for what you contribute to the organisation

I hope this article has prompted you to see the opportunity that is before you. If you solve a business problem, and generate a business result, then you will be seen as indispensable to your organisation. And, as the dictionary shows, indispensable means that you are absolutely essential and other people, or things, cannot function without you. 

That’s the opportunity that focusing on value represents for the profession and for you, the professionals.

 

 


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The Author

Crispin Manners

Crispin Manners, CEO of Onva Consulting and Chairman of Inspiring Workplaces, is the author of How to Sell Value – Demystified: A Practical Guide for Communications Agencies.

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