Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

On measuring PR and the ‘silo-isation’ of new media

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 11, 2007

E-consultancy recently hosted a roundtable discussion on online PR and has just published a follow-up report on it (thanks to Stephen Davies over at PR Blogger for the link).

The (free) publication is well worth a read.

Among its many sections is one on the thorny old topic of measurement. The roundtable participants agreed that “the benefit of online PR is not always immediate and it can therefore be difficult to measure – like traditional PR”.

Hear hear. I don’t think many of us would argue with that, even if it is worth having a go at measuring everything you can and demonstrating ROI wherever possible.

Yet there are undoubtedly clients out there who think that online PR activity is inherently more measurable than offline. That’s possibly a legacy of many marketing managers’ perception that online advertising is more measurable than offline, just because you can get stats on click-through rates on banner ads and the like.

That’s one of the great marketing myths of our time. Click-throughs rarely tell the whole story – for example, banners can have branding impact even if no one clicks on them. Who clicks through can be just as important as how many. So online advertising is just as hard to measure as offline. The same is true in PR circles.

Fortunately, the e-consultancy report goes on to suggest one way of keeping the stat-obsessed client happy – namely, to write outcomes into requirements. That’s very sensible advice. An outcome could be a certain number of downloads of a pdf document, or the number of people who engage with a piece of rich media (again, I’d suggest adding a ‘who’ into the equation as well, but that’s by the by).

One of the participants in the roundtable also highlighted the need to distinguish between actual behaviour (ie. what is clicked on, downloaded etc) and inferred behaviour.

That’s all well and good. But it set me thinking about why online PR practitioners are tyically under more presure to demonstrate ROI than the offliners. There’s the association with the click-through rates of adland of course, but another (related) explanation could be that online PR is seen as a separate discipline from ‘traditional’ PR by many clients, and therefore subject to its own forms of measurement.

The e-consultancy report found that online PR budgets are typically coming from ecommerce departments rather than from PR, and that organisations who want to make the most of this area usually employ specialist online PR agencies or search agencies.

Why? SEO and online PR are not the same thing (even if they are not-so-distant cousins), so using the ecommerce budget to pay for online PR is ridiculous. And loads of ‘traditional’ PR agencies are perfectly capable of delivering effective online campaigns (I know I would say that, given that I work for one, but I hope I’m not being overly biased here). When did you last hear a PR firm say that they can only get their clients print coverage, and if you need broadcast exposure then it’s best to go elsewhere?

This silo-isation of online PR (sorry for the made-up word) does no one any favours, least of all the clients themselves. Online campaigns work best when they’re integrated with offline activity. They require specialist knowledge for sure, but the techniques (and measurement methodologies) aren’t so very different from those deployed in the offline world. The ultimate purpose of PR – to increase brand awareness/drive sales/create ‘buzz’ or whatever – is the same wherever the activity takes place.

I’m still waiting for the day when the phrase “new media” drops out of common parlence. It’s just media really, isn’t it? 


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