Construction PR return on investment

Twice this year I have had uncomfortable conversations with construction companies looking for a new PR agency. It got tricky because one of their main requests was finding out how many “outputs” they would get for their budget.

Not unreasonable, you may say. But twice I had to push back. What did the client count as an ‘output’ I wondered?

Did it mean a press release? A press cutting? A tweet? A strategy document? A case study involving many collaborators on a project? A letter to the editor? A video? An event for 250 people? A crisis preparedness plan? A new creative idea for a product launch? A media interview? A single telephone call to a reporter which leads to wall-to-wall national TV coverage?

Unfortunately, in both cases the would-be client could not answer my question. “I don’t know. But we got 40 outputs a year from our other agency and I just need something for procurement to show we’ll be getting more.”

Ok then, I said. Let’s say 41. Or 51 even. But please note it’s completely meaningless to judge your PR agency on outputs alone.

In one case, the client agreed and we set off on a much more intelligent approach. In the other case, we didn’t get the work, which was fine.

Outcomes, not outputs

Of course, any decent construction PR agency should be transparent and accountable. It is right for the client to set measurable objectives at the start of a campaign.

But the point of this post is to explain why measuring the likely value for money a construction or property client will get from its PR agency based solely on ‘numbers of outputs’ is bonkers. It drives entirely the wrong behaviours, as not every output is equal in effort, time, skill or impact.

So a thousand low quality outputs might look like productivity, but could easily result in reputational damage. And conversely, one well timed, skilled and high quality tactic could deliver positive results that outstrip all the others put together.

So that’s the main thing to look at when judging ROI. Results. Outcomes, not outputs.

Here are some good examples of PR campaign objectives which have measurable outcomes:

  • We want you to achieve at least X% of all positive coverage in the year within our priority media.
  • We want to achieve a close relationship with these particular media before next March, as evidenced by…
  • Between January and July, we want to see an X% increase in goal conversions on our website as a result of visitors generated by online media coverage.
  • Within a year, we want to achieve x% higher unprompted awareness of our campaign goals within this specific audience.
  • We want to see an X point increase in our website domain authority as a result of high quality inbound links from the national media by the end of October… etc etc.

You get the picture.

A good PR agency should be able to deliver the right amount, type and combination of activities to achieve objectives like this, and should also be able to track, evaluate and report back to you regularly on its progress.

The old evaluation metrics

So while I’m on the subject of evaluation, let’s also address another issue around the way some construction PR clients and agencies still measure “value”.

Once upon a time, PR agencies measured the value of their media relations activities by ‘Advertising Value Equivalence’ (AVE).

It worked like this:

Step 1: Take a press cutting that mentions your client, achieved in, say, The Times, and measure its size in column inches.

Step 2: Work out how much it would cost to buy the same sized space in the newspaper if you bought it as display advertising.

Step 3: Multiply that amount by two, three, four or six times. (Actually, pick any number you fancy). The multiplier was used because someone somewhere had decided editorial was more ‘valuable’ than advertising. But there was no common agreement on just how much more valuable, so you could choose your own multiplier.

Step 4: Report back to the client that this coverage was thus ‘worth’ £XXX,000 compared to fees of £XX,000, and so the ROI was X%.

What a load of nonsense that seems now.

What if…

  • The Times was not a priority publication to reach your target audience for that campaign in the first place?
  • The article in question failed to mention any of your most important messages?
  • It mentioned a competitor more favourably, or gave more prominence to their quote instead of yours?
  • It got some key facts wrong?
  • The piece appeared online instead, where you can’t buy ‘half a page’ of advertising anyway?
  • Or maybe, as I even saw happen earlier this year, the press cutting being measured for its AVE was in a trade press magazine and was a paid-for (colour separations) piece anyway!

How do you judge the ‘worth’ of their work now?

A better way to measure PR effectiveness in construction and property

At LMC, we never use AVEs (please don’t even ask). In this age of data and analytics, it’s not necessary. And it’s not helpful to your organisation, either.

To give you a feel about how seriously this issue is now taken, if the awards panel at the Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) sees that you’re evaluating your PR through use of AVEs, the entry gets marked down instantly.

Instead, here are the CIPR’s principles of best practice:

  • All media output, whether online or offline, should be evaluated for the outcomes it brings about
  • Outcomes should be evaluated against goals
  • Goals relating to the business/organisational goals of your client/employer, or at least to the stated aim of the activity included in all planned public relations activity
  • Output measures are not a sufficient measure of public relations activity
  • Advertising Value Equivalence does not represent the value of Public Relations – including AVE in your award submission will guarantee a zero mark in the measurement and evaluation section
  • Measurement must be transparent, understandable and replicable to be valid – you should be able to explain the provenance of any statistics
  • Media output should be evaluated using qualitative as well as quantitative metrics
  • Social media cannot be effectively measured using a single tool or metric.

That’s why, wherever we can, we use the evaluation metrics recommended by AMEC (the international association for the measurement and evaluation of communication).

We are also great fans of Paul Sutton’s 4R Framework, originally created for social media evaluation but easily adapted to cover PR too:

  • Reach – measuring visibility.
  • Response – measuring interactions with your content or coverage.
  • Resonance – measuring actions generated.
  • Return – measuring whether hard business objectives are being met.

We adopt a clear approach to PR and social media evaluation, agreeing with you your own preferred, easy-to-understand, easy-to-replicate metrics to track PR and social media quantity, quality and effectiveness. (Often, this may need you to put in place some proper tracking at your end too). We will almost certainly want access to your Google Analytics account please.

We are constantly learning, improving and refining our evaluation services.

But our aim is to ensure all our PR clients can measure return on investment in a way that is meaningful and makes sense to the board.

For that, we were delighted to be recognised as a PRCA-approved Measurement Champion (one of just 25 PR agencies in the UK, last time we checked).

Questions that count

So, if you’re looking to measure ROI, ask your PR consultancy to consider these three questions:

  • How did your work help us to achieve the goals we set on day one?
  • Is there a faster, more impactful and cost effective way of achieving the same results?
  • And if so, what should we do next to refine and improve our PR and marketing programme?
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