Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting the Communications Function on Track

You may be interested in a backgrounder I recently developed that may be helpful to you or someone you know. While the document is titled “Getting the Communications Function on Track,” it is anything but an indictment of the people who comprise the function. Rather, it is centered on how to systematically assess communications to take a snapshot of the current operating environment and challenges faced by the communications function, and using the process to provide a basis for future planning and activities.

The assessment evolved out of communications audits I’ve done for clients over the years. Only, rather than use the old “audit” process simply to identify problems as most audits do, the assessment is designed to identify what’s working, where there may be inconsistencies that need to be addressed, and how the process can be leveraged for future communications success. Senior management tends to find such assessments helpful in staying on top of one of the most important leadership functions within the organization – communications. And communicators may find this approach useful in helping them manage expectations and support their own cases for a renewed commitment to communications.

Here are some questions that managers may want to ask themselves if considering a closer look at the communications function:

1. Are you concerned that recent changes could have an impact on communications, and ultimately the organization’s marketing, recruitment and retention, or any other important function?
2. Has your organization been forced to make cuts in the communications function?
3. Have these cuts affected the staffing levels or responsibilities within the communications function?
4. Have people in the organization begun to go “rogue,” preparing their own communications materials leading to inconsistencies and reduced quality?
5. Do you have excessive amounts of old collateral materials mixed in with newer designs?
6. Are you concerned by how important stakeholders now perceive your organization?

It’s obvious that the more questions you say “yes” to, the more likely you’d have an interest in the backgrounder. The development of these backgrounders is in response to common questions or issues I currently tend to address in my own work. If you’d like a copy of the backgrounder, just get in touch with me using the contact information on this page, and I will follow up. Thanks.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Advertising Equivalency Measurement and Why it Shouldn’t Matter

Communications professionals are not infrequently asked by clients to provide Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) numbers as one means to evaluate the effectiveness of a public relations program. Most commonly, AVEs are tied to the measurement of publicity campaigns that support larger marketing communications efforts.

The thinking behind AVEs is to show management how much value is received by publicity. While the AVE has become more sophisticated over the years, it is basically a process where the PR firm calculates the volume of media space or time and compares it to that media outlet’s advertising rates and/or its market share.

Numbers crunchers then estimate that a certain amount of media placements are equivalent to a certain amount of ad dollars and audience reach.

For example, if the ACME software company is prominently featured in a Daily Gazette article that takes up an entire full page of the newspaper, the PR firm would then find out how much it would cost to actually purchase a full-page ad. It would then make an assumption what the article about ACME is worth in advertising dollars. Further, if the publication has a circulation of say 250,000, then the PR firm might tell the ACME software company that the publicity generated 250,000 “impressions.”

That’s pretty simplistic. I’ve seen PR firms throw in other factors that gin up the numbers even further. “Pass along rate,” is one. This is where the PR firm tells ACME software company that not only did the Daily Gazette’s original 250,000 subscribers see the article, but it is likely that about 15 percent of the newspapers were “passed along” to others who also saw the favorable publicity. This then serves to reinforce the PR agency’s claim that the publicity actually generated 250,000 plus 15 percent favorable impressions, or 287,500 gross impressions.

As an aside, it appears that the PR firm does not usually take into account that of the original 250,000 subscribers to the Daily Gazette, some may not have read or cared about the full page article, and of those who did read the piece, how many may have gained a favorable impression of ACME software company. I’m absolutely sure the actual numbers are much less.

Over the years, I’ve been in meetings or seen AVE reports where it was said that a particular campaign generated millions of media impressions in towns with fewer than 250,000 residents. Even with the Internet and SEO, I don’t know how this is likely.

There are many other bells and whistles that to some extent further refine the AVE approach to measurement, but since the whole process is based on what I believe is a flawed assumption – that publicity is in effect free advertising – I just think it all serves to further confound anyone who wants a true picture of the effectiveness of the PR campaign.

Because public relations is as its name states is a relationship business, it really cannot be effectively measured according to the AVE system, which is now largely considered archaic in communications measurement circles. Rather, it is best measured by finding out what targeted audiences perceive, comprehend, remember and act upon. This often requires both quantitative and qualitative research of the actual targeted audience. Tactics include primarily surveys and focus groups, but of course, there are many other ways.

What I like best about how far the communications business has come is that it no longer sees itself only as a publicity machine that can be measure according to the same standards as advertising. Instead, its focus is on the building and preservation of reputations, creating awareness among broad swaths of stakeholders, not just the media, and at the end of the day, making sure that everything it does is designed to build stronger relationships with key audiences.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Attitude Matters in Media Interviews

I saw a woman interviewed on television today. She was the mother of one of the World Trade Center victims on September 11, 2001. Her son was an off-duty police officer who was supposed to be on the golf course that morning, but he voluntarily rushed to the scene to help, where he saved many lives and sacrificed his own.

This woman broke every media interview rule in the book this morning. She wore a hat that didn’t fit. She had no “talking points.” She talked of struggling to forgive Osama Bin Laden but that she would try, and then leave justice to God. And she talked of a meeting with then President Bush in the days after her son died. In matter-of-fact terms, she described another human being, not a caricature, who consoled her at a time of need.

Any one of these things could cause a media interview to go south in seconds, yet this interview was different. She broke every rule of successful media interviewing, and yet she likely won the hearts of hundreds of thousands if not millions. So how did she do it?

She spoke from the heart, simply and with compassion, and ultimately with a general optimism that she exuded from start to finish. Through all her experiences in life, she continued to have faith, and it all came through.

There is no better preparation for a media interview than going into it with the right attitude.