The Key Reason Why Your PR Program May Be Underperforming

By Nicole Hakimi

A surprising survey from U.K.-based public relations reporting firm Releasd found that 20 percent of executives outside of the communications function do not know that PR stands for public relations, and 40 percent do not think that communications delivers good value to their business. While executives with a good understanding of PR were more likely (80 percent) to believe that it delivers a good value, the survey findings remind us that companies large and small still have tremendous room for growth in how they use their PR program to drive business results.

In fact, we still see many companies that perceive PR as a one-sided communications function, broadcasting controlled messages from a management team to the world. The best practitioners understand that the function has evolved to become a more complex, dynamic and interactive discipline  — a shift discussed at length in ICR’s eBook, “PR 101: A Guide for Today’s Public Relations.

The difference between an effective and ineffective PR program is, in many cases, the utilization of feedback. The most effective PR teams are proactive about not only soliciting feedback and but also using it to evolve. This involves routinely answering questions such as:

  • What types of story lines are readers interested in? What types of voices are needed in these stories?
  • What type of content do people click on, download, etc.? What keywords are trending on search engines?
  • What are reporters asking for? How are they responding to our pitches?
  • What are analysts writing in their reports? What questions are investors raising on calls and what concerns are the focus of financial journalists?
  • How are social/digital audiences responding to our content? What are these audiences asking for?
  • How are employees feeling? How are they rating us on Glassdoor?
  • Who is reading our owned content? Where are they finding it? Where are they sharing it?

New and innovative technology tools provide access to a feedback loop that didn’t exist before. For example, we recently started working with NewsWhip, which allows us to leverage predictive media intelligence to understand what content is resonating with audiences. In June, Axios used data from NewsWhip and several other data analytic tools to show how coverage related to George Floyd and the ensuing protests dwarfed that of the coronavirus pandemic on TV, social media, search engines and online articles. The analysis was particularly interesting given the degree to which COVID coverage had been dominating those channels until that point in the year.

As a practitioner, I find feedback tools like NewsWhip to be much more constructive than, for example, using ad value equivalency (AVE) data to measure past results and plan future initiatives. There may be value in using metrics like AVE, but only when combined with deeper and more qualitative tools (as outlined above).

When PR teams seek and embrace feedback from internal and external audiences, they can use it to divert attention from tactics that aren’t resonating in order to reallocate time and resources to the initiatives that are achieving the desired results. This can make all the difference in whether a program achieves the desired outcomes.