The Power of Public Relations: More Than Column Inches

The Power of Public Relations: More Than Column Inches


“…the value PR brings to the table is undisputed.”

Toby Cosgrove, CEO of Cleveland Clinic

In a recent interview between Steve Barrett, Editor- in-chief of PRWeek US and Toby Cosgrove, CEO of Cleveland Clinic, the latter created some PR buzz for an industry that typically generates this kind of interest for others. Held with auspicious timing for those of us working at PR firms, the conversation took place at the 2016 PRWeek Conference: The Value Proposition. From this interview, Cosgrove made the above claim: “…the value PR brings to the table is undisputed.” While we can’t be quite as direct when explaining the benefits of Public Relations to our potential clients, it’s always validating to see someone from the other side of the table who understands the value of PR and becomes an ambassador for our work.

Calculable Value

This leads to a question that PR professionals are always working to find an answer for: “How can I communicate the value of Public Relations?”

In many instances, our friends in marketing departments have an easier time quantifying value through a variety of metrics. In fact, a sub-industry has been developed to provide analytics for marketing professionals, which reaches back farther than you may realize. Marketing Directors have almost always known how their different campaigns are resonating with their target audiences through a variety of tools. To name a few:

  • Print advertising can use reply envelopes and cards
  • Digital campaigns easily track click-throughs from the website hosting the ad and record which pages on your website the visitor went to
  • Radio and television ads still use a special phrase or code word to see how many viewers and listeners are responding
  • All of these examples can point potential customers to unique URL’s to judge which tool was the most successful

In the not-so-distant past, PR used to quantify success through column inches……literally. After the agency was able to successfully place an article in a target publication, out came the ruler to measure column inches (the amount of space that the article used). It was then compared with the amount an equivalent ad in the same publication would cost. This approach certainly provides figures to analyze, but has decreased in use as the popularity of digital media has grown and changed the ways in which we think about corporate communications.

Fundamentally, the impact of a written piece based on industry knowledge can be far more important to a company’s brand than a product advertisement.

So how is PR value measured? In some instances, the answer is similar to marketing. For example, a byline placed in an online trade publication will usually contain a link back to the client’s website, and so a marketing executive can track inbound hits and/or the publication may provide complementary information on Click-through rate (CTR). This is a direct method of calculating PR’s value. However, in most instances the benefits of PR aren’t as easily quantifiable.

Public Relations: Changes Thoughts and Attitudes

We’ve already discussed the important Credibility that PR brings to its clients, but it can also change thoughts and attitudes. While this concept has broad applications, it’s especially useful for the tech-oriented businesses that Milldam works with. For example, there might be a variety of methods used to achieve a particular goal in your industry (for simplicity’s sake, let’s say cooling a computer). Numerous companies make products that do this through a variety of scientific methods (with varying degrees of success). A byline placed in an influential publication about the approach that your product uses (without naming the product) can naturally sway some customers to your line of thinking and they will ultimately buy your products (ideally). Though hard to quantify, this is the positive result both agency and client are looking for.

Public Relations: Utilized as a Resource

Additionally, Public Relations is valuable in that it often has a longer impact than marketing alone. Off the top of your head, do you remember the most popular Super Bowl ad from five years ago? Last year? When is the last time you read an ad in a magazine or online that made an impact on your decision making? Whether or not the audience realizes it, PR is often utilized as a resource, especially now that information lives on the Internet for eternity. Using our byline example from earlier, a customer who is influenced by the article may forward it to their coworkers, further expanding its reach to the target audience through an organic process. Down the road, someone may be researching your preferred scientific methodology and find your article months or even years later; it has staying power that will endure after print and banner ad campaigns have ended.

Public Relations: Generates New Opportunities

Good PR also generates new opportunities with the media. Exposure in a valued outlet can open the doors for other reporters and analysts who now see you as a thought leader in your field. This leads to additional article and interview invitations in both the short and long-term. A publication may also create added value through placing your piece in front of their readership via their social media channels, which can then be shared in additional networks, etc., etc.

In the modern business environment, trying to quantify the value of PR is as much art as it is science. However, when weighing the decision to work with a PR firm, it’s important to not forget that Public Relations is going to affect your business whether you like it or not. The only decision you can make is whether you want to be proactive and shape the message while you still have the chance.

Brendon Stellman authors the column “Pure BS” and is Vice President, Director of Client Relations for Milldam Public Relations.