Recognising the value of results through smarter measurement

Colin Cather, Creative Director, Bottle, believes smarter forms of measurement may offer agencies the potential for alternative, reward-based, billing models.

Profile: brand communications agency that specialises in public relations

Insight: measurement is the barrier to innovative billing models

We don’t have payment by results, yet, but we do have an increasingly clear view of the results we can achieve, and a sense of the relative value of those results to clients. 

What are the results? Well, I think that’s quite easy to describe. We create stories designed to make people care more about the brands we are working for. We build meaningful brands. 

We aim to create long-term shifts in perception and salience. Who else tries to achieve these results?

Advertising, that’s who. 

By that, I mean that some advertising, and the version of public relations that we are delivering, are both trying to build brand value. We want to grow awareness and reach new audiences with stories that forge a stronger connection between the brand and the audience. And to strengthen the brand connection with existing audiences.

But how do we measure those results? I think they are equivalent to advertising value. 

We are trying to shift the same needles-on-dials that advertising is trying to shift. The real problem, for me, is that even advertising doesn’t have a good measure of its own value.

If we are to solve the problem, public relations should have shared language with the rest of marketing disciplines.

Marketing vs. public relations

I have met some - both long-in-the-tooth leaders and fresh-faced graduates - who don’t even see public relations as part of the marketing function. And, problematically, I have met prospective clients whose public relations function is detached from the marketing function. 

That can’t work. We are trying to achieve the same things - the same results - by different, complementary, means. Usually in different channels, and with different forms of content.

Public relations often has to persuade intermediaries to tell a story for us such as bloggers and journalists. But that doesn’t mean we need our own language of reputation and trust.

Measuring the value of public relations

If we are talking to the client’s finance director about where they can see this value added, then it is in the brand equity. It’s on the balance sheet, and not the profit and loss account.

It’s in the share price, not the sales volumes. 

It’s in the share of market, which is why setting a measurement dial on share of voice (SOV) has some appeal because there are proven links between these two.

But because the channels we often operate in represent ‘infinite’ space, then it’s not an absolute measure of SOV. But it can be a relative measure.

And because SOV is too crude, it doesn’t measure the quality of the story, then it needs to be SOV on meaningful topics and themes, versus competitors. All of this is measurable. 

I know this shouldn’t be the only test, but we have found that clients - right up to board level - understand these things. The measures have face validity, and they help us to have integrated and purposeful discussions with the other agencies we are working with.

Then together we can get a shared set of measures, of our combined added brand value. And then we can begin to talk to clients about linking reward to results.