Today's PR demands business skills that don't get taught in PR school.
Since this is our official “back to school” issue of The Measurement Standard, we thought we’d all take a turn in the classroom. So that’s why there’s a piece on “What we’ve learned from our mistakes,” and a checklist of what you need to know before you start your measurement program.
But mostly, this issue is aimed at all measurement maven wannabe’s that want to do metrics right but may not have the necessary skills. Take heart, because you can learn those skills.
I know because I did it.
Nowadays I am very much a numbers person, but I didn't start off that way. I went to school and got a liberal arts degree, a BA Cum Laude with a major in Asian Studies. My dream was to be the New Delhi correspondent to the New York Times. But that dream got deferred somewhere along the line, and I became the New Hampshire correspondent to the Boston Herald. Not exactly the same, but a fun assignment nonetheless.
Then, like many good 20-somethings, I followed my heart to the Golden State. There I discovered that there were about 20 wannabe reporters for every opening, so I jumped to “the dark side” and got a job in corporate marketing. Ten years, five jobs, and a bunch of measurement and justification later, I started The Delahaye Group and what is now my 23-year career in measurement.
The point is that nowhere in any of my pre-measurement schooling or work experience did anyone ask me to understand a basic P&L, a statistical correlation, or any other form of math, accounting, or business principles. I was never taught, or expected to learn, the skills that modern PR requires.
And that’s the problem for PR in today’s environment: Today's PR demands business skills that don't get taught in school.
It used to be that if you could count to 100 (or the number of clips you got in a month, whichever was greater) you could measure PR. Then, when things got a bit more sophisticated, you needed to know how to use a calculator to add up the number of impressions. (Or, worse, calculate AVEs.)
But while our counterparts in the business schools were learning what makes businesses grow and prosper, us PR folks were learning how to spin, obfuscate, and justify. More recently, communications classes have added an emphasis on ethics, corporate social responsibility, and, in the best of the best, statistical analysis. But the fundamentals of business success still seem to be the exclusive purview of business and accounting majors.
Which means that most communications majors have a completely warped definition of success. Somehow they think that if they just get enough of something – Facebook fans, twitter followers, clips, column inches, or impressions – their existence will be justified.
What they don’t understand is that unless they can tie those ”somethings“ to the mission and bottom line of the business, their measurement program is one enormous exercise in futility. Ultimately, someone someplace up the food chain will call into question their right to exist. And they will have every reason to do so.
As long as PR and social media are seen as just a better way to spin a story, we’ll always be vulnerable. PR people will always seem second-rate and expendable until we aggressively demonstrate that we have vital role in helping the organization achieve business success, be in greater efficiency, shorter sales cycles, or lower legal and retention costs.
Which means that if you want to be a success marketer or communicator today, you probably need to go back to school and take a few of those business courses you hoped to avoid.