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Amplifying the topics that power today's PR professional

PR Buzzwords – Storytelling, PR, and Measurement

The following content was originally posted by the author, Todd Murphy, on the Waxing Unlyrical blog associated with Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc.

Buzzwords! The public relations industry, maybe above all other industries, loves its buzzwords.

Each year we latch on to something we think is new, unique, innovative, or otherwise intriguing to our fellow practitioners and then we don’t let go until the next buzzword surfaces.

Currently, PR professionals are still in love with the concept of “storytelling.” Your public relations must be engaging and therefore must tell a story.

No kidding! I think of printed content (published, web, social, etc.) much like a live speaker:

PR Storytelling measurement Universal Information Services

Entertain me and engage me, or you will lose me.

But what if the content you use to engage me is untrue, shrouded in half-truths, or even advertorial in nature?

The problem with storytelling as a vehicle for engagement, and more importantly message placement, is that if everyone is following the same model, it all becomes noise again.

I say “again” simply because all communication vehicles eventually become mainstream, homogenized, and then the target audience tunes out and waits for the next iteration of communication style to appear.

In PR we beat a concept so hard that it dies a quick and untimely death, only to remain in circulation until the very last PRSA chapter has held its professional development conference.

Take for example the first sentence from this PRWeek article by David Blecken, February 9, 2015 (ya, going on two years old now), where he quotes Lou Hoffman of The Hoffman Agency. ” ‘Storytelling,’ like many industry buzzwords, is a term that has virtually lost all meaning due to overuse and inappropriate application.”

Reports of the death of storytelling are not new.

Even within this blog for Waxing UnLyrical, the “Rebirth of Storytelling” was promoted as a returning concept back in May of 2011. A guest post by Davina Brewer promoted the revival of storytelling as a means to get back to telling “real, human stories again.”

Real as opposed to what: Lies, half-truths?

The need for truth and transparency within public relations was born out of necessity after the communication industry had developed a black-eye by turning a blind eye to ethics.

This article from 1963 by Sylvia Porter, in the Meriden Journal, carries the subheading “Policing Public Relations.” It describes the impetus for public relations accreditation and why the practice of PR must have boundaries framed in truth and transparency. So truth and transparency, it seems, is on a spectrum of communication styles.

How is the public to discern truth from hyperbole if the practitioners of PR themselves have trouble with it?

The answer, at least one answer, can again be found back in 1963 with the single word “policing.”

Today, policing can be found through the organizations that are measuring the paid, earned, shared, and owned results of their public relations efforts. Through the measurement of PESO communications, organizations and clients can reliably understand if their message points are getting through to their target audience, if they are engaging the demographic they want, and whether or not their specific message points are being portrayed favorably, unfavorably, or possibly doing damage to their objective.

PR practitioners now must be able to work with big data and possess the skills needed to measure what matters in order to ensure that their stories are engaging and also truthful and transparent.

We conducted a recent, but informal, poll to determine what percentage of PR practitioners are measuring their communication results. Although the registered sample size was just under 200, we found that exactly 50% of PR professionals are doing any measurement at all.

PR Performance Measurement Universal Information Services

So it seems 50% of PR pros are not measuring, but in all reality they should be.

So like many blog posts, I’m probably going to leave you with more questions than answers, but hopefully have provided a spark to get you and your organization thinking about measuring your communication results.

My work is to bring valid PR measurement methodologies to organizations in a way that increases measured accuracy well above that which can be done through automated measurement. When consulting with prospective clients we like to leave them with some key thoughts. For the readers of this post I’ll share those key thoughts freely:

1. Start off by only measuring what matters.

This means pick 1-5 key metrics that will tell you and your organization how you are performing relative to your public relations’ goals and objectives. Don’t over complicate things if you’re just getting started. If you have an established method for measurement, are you measuring correctly?

A repeatable and reliable method is important.

2. Understand what PESO results are and which results can be measured.

We consider there to be five media types in general, print, TV, radio, web, and social media. Using only found web hits can be a fair indicator of some results, but you can’t assume that a web hit was actually broadcast or published.

In other words, track the media outlets you need, in order to “know,” rather than assume, how your PR efforts are performing.

3. Deliver or demand transparency in your measurement methodology.

If you do it yourself, be willing to show your stakeholders the math and detail behind your findings. If you contract with a PR measurement organization like mine, make sure you’re receiving all the data used to generate your results.

Whether a dashboard or a spreadsheet, you or your PR measurement provider should be able to prove the measures shown.

4. Lastly, educate yourself and ask for help.

Real PR measurement can be difficult, especially if you are trying to get started in measurement. Reach out to others in the industry and find tools that can help you. We offer a free white paper detailing five key metrics.

This can be a good place to start and there are countless other sources you can find.

Just as it was pointed out in 1963, all who work in the public relations industry have an obligation to be ethical, and that obligation includes ensuring the math we use to measure and compare ourselves is truthful.

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