Maximizing Returns: Is the ROI of PR Investment Ellusive?

One of the most difficult challenges for marketing leadership has been the ability to deliver metrics that the executive team or board of directors can understand and review to determine if they are getting a return on investment with public relations. Most marketing leaders build their careers through the demand or revenue generation function where there are clearer metrics of lead flow, conversion and velocity tracking, an analysis of sourced versus influenced, all the way through the process to closed/won deals. While the direct measurement of influence has been historically problematic, over time leadership and boards have grown to understand the nuances and accept a level of ambiguity because of the story that the data helps tell. Yet, the same level of ambiguity is not typically acceptable when one talks about PR. However, when one measures the right things, the compelling PR story can be as powerful as the other marketing metrics and more cost-effective. 

Virtually all marketing leaders will tell you that in today’s B2B market, the buying journey and the number of people involved in the buying decision have grown more complex. This is often because of the growing number of channels available to reach people, as well as the increasing number of people involved in the buying process, either as a member of the buying committee or an influencer on the committee. With that increase in personas and changes in privacy regulations, it’s more difficult for marketers to target efficiently and effectively outbound and/or digital spend. With the current economic situation and expansion of buying teams and their influencers, most companies are experiencing a lengthening of the sales process. This requires the salespeople to reach out more often and reach more people than ever before. Yet the enablement content that the marketing team can provide to do that is limited.  

A recent survey of the TrustRadius Customer Advisory board showed marketers report that CFOs are more closely tracking marketing spend, pushing harder for metrics on ROI and asking more questions about the deliverables and results produced by the team. 

Too often there is a focus on the reports generated from PR analytics tools which, while interesting, typically don’t address the questions of the board or financial team which tend to focus on the cost of acquisition, growth in pipeline and customer revenue retention. Even more importantly, they rarely provide actionable intelligence to help your PR and marketing team work smarter. 

In my 25+ years in marketing and revenue generation, I believe and have proven, the ROI from PR is very strong and that getting the data one needs to show that value is not as difficult as most believe. It’s been one of the most exciting things to share with our current and new clients here at Pierpont. That integration of marketing and PR – a holistic view and approach – delivers more value to clients, helping them build their brand and generate demand in ways that lead to more revenue regardless of the industry. 

While it is possible to deliver and show ROI, I want to address one other issue that has created challenges for marketers and even PR professionals in defending the investment in PR over other areas. It stems from how we define PR and the disconnect between what the company’s board and leadership value.  

PRSA defines public relations as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” That is accurate and noble. However, the disconnect with the boardroom is that the “relationship” is only part of the journey. The objective of the business is to generate revenue and that requires the communication and marketing messages be designed to make people think in a certain way, feel positive about the company and its products and then take action to buy, renew or expand their purchase of the company’s products or services. We often couched our marketing and communications planning in the format of “Think-Feel-Do.”   

What do we want them to think?

What do we want them to feel? 

What do we want them to do? 

When you look at your PR from that perspective and you look at the activities and results that one can measure, the return on your public relations investment becomes simpler to articulate. When you integrate your PR with your marketing and demand generation you will see your lead flow increase and in many cases generate a lower cost of acquisition. 

Most marketing leaders have learned to protect other parts of their budget before PR as they’ve never been taught or shown how to prove the ROI and talk about it in the boardroom. Those days can/will be behind you when you work with the right partner. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tad Druart serves as Vice President for Pierpont bringing more than two decades of growth marketing, communications and investor relations experience to clients. He has served as vice president of marketing, CMO and CRO for private equity-backed technology companies building brand, generating demand and driving revenue growth and retention. He has led the function through multiple mergers and acquisitions as well as serving as investor relations lead through two initial public offerings on the NASDAQ exchange.  

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