The Importance of Being Earnest

Communications strategy
My thoughts on PR, campaigns, AVE, data and VIBs (very busy and important people)

‘Earnest’ is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as being “sincere and serious in intention” which I am very sorry to say I find sorely lacking in the communications industry today. (Apologies to the ones who can write a good strategy – you know who you are!)

What there is a lot of are generally well-dressed PR practitioners rushing around hoping to look V.I.B. (very important and busy) by having lots of meetings which generate nothing but brain farts and maybe a badly written and usually misguided press release for a ‘PR campaign’.

Therein lies the problem – insincere people with vacuous intentions.

Also, there can never be a successful “PR campaign” because the word ‘campaign’ implies a short term initiative and any successful communications outcome is always a long term thing.

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that if you ask them what does good look like or how will you know if you’re successful they’ll either sell you a heavily weighted advertising value equivalent (AVE) score or they’ll spout out a bunch of excuses about how poor a measure AVE is without actually offering any alternative.

The bottom line is that there is only one way to measure an outcome – did you achieve what you wanted to achieve? And in order to measure that you need to know what you want to achieve? Which isn’t always as simple as it sounds!

Are you trying to sell a product? Are you trying to make government aware of your new CSI initiative? Or aren’t you actually trying to build a long term positive reputation for your brand? And how do you know if you’ve done your job?

I believe it is irresponsible to focus only on the short term and so I think the best way to measure ROI is by constructing a matrix of measures that track both long and short term objectives.

And to do that you have to, I am afraid, sacrifice some of your budget for research. This isn’t always easy because I have yet to meet a communications team that has as much budget as a marketing team – or in fact, even a tenth of it – but if you don’t have some sort on ongoing reputation tracking in place you can never really say whether or not you are meeting your long term objectives. Not that the perfect reputation tracker has been developed and the debate amongst the academics on the topic rages on, but consistent application of an imperfect measure is better than no measure at all.

Which I suppose is the perfect entrée into the debate on AVE.

Yes, I know, it’s probably not accurate. Everyone seems to measure it differently. And adding a PR weighting to it is tantamount to fudging the numbers. But if you can use this number to measure did this message get more or less coverage than that message, or did our company get more or less coverage than their company, then at least you have something.

But use it as your only measure at your peril.

Of course, you also need to measure: was this coverage more or less positive than that? And was this coverage more or less credible?

And now that we are in the digital age, we also get to use some really useful measures like: What reach did I get on that message? How many of my stakeholders were exposed to my message? Did they engage with my message? Was it a positive or negative engagement? And was it a cost-effective engagement?

Which means that as communicators – people who are generally more literate than numerate – we need to develop a new skill. We need to own the spreadsheet in the same way that the finance people do!

I know the creatives like to ignore it. But sorry, you need to live and die by the spreadsheet. And on those spreadsheets you need ALL the relevant metrics -you can’t just focus on one or two.

You have to track the online and the offline metrics. You have to track the traditional and the digital or social PR metrics. You have to look at the short term and the long term objectives.

You have to see the big picture.

There are a lot of measures you could use and some you should at least use. There are also a lot of different tools. I’m not sure that there is a right and a wrong in this – I think you have to find what really works for you.

Ok, so now we agree that it’s all about the numbers… how do you get those numbers? What makes A company’s communications better than B’s?

You need to have a long-term communications strategy intricately linked to the business strategy, applied consistently, using an integrated approach over multiple channels using various disciplines, with clear and cut through messages to a defined target audience, executed innovatively and creatively, with relevance and at the appropriate time, in an authentic and transparent way.

Or more simply – you need a good story and you need to tell it well.

You need to be earnest!

Views are entirely my own and apologies if the truth hurts!

P.S.: If you looking for communication support. Contact me to discuss your requirements.

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