Editor’s Note: As our Chief Insights Officer, Mark Weiner, explains below, no PR measurement program is complete without benchmarking. But for truly relevant insights, you need a benchmark built around communicators. That’s why we launched the PublicRelay Benchmark so you can evaluate your PR performance against the world’s best communications. Preview a few of the media trends and insights from our Q1 Benchmark report now!
Media content analysis continues to be one of the most popular forms of PR research and evaluation. This approach involves the deconstruction of traditional and social media content to convert text, video, and audio content into actionable data representing individual messages as well as the names of spokespeople, opinion leaders, and influencers. Once converted to data, the researcher seeks to detect trends, uncover insights, and propose future action.
Thorough media analysis includes each of the following: quantitative analysis (frequency and reach); qualitative analysis (tone/sentiment and message delivery); comparative analysis (your performance versus other measures); and business impact (PR’s effect on revenue generation, efficiency, and cost avoidance). In this column, we focus on comparative analysis, commonly known as “benchmarking.”
Why Benchmarking Matters
Smart communicators use benchmarking to assess their environment, gain perspective, and refine for better results. Without the context of comparative analysis, one can pursue what seems like a proper PR plan by setting measurable objectives, developing data-informed strategy and tactics, and evaluating performance… and get everything absolutely wrong.
Imagine this scenario: a communicator sets an objective to improve by 20% over the previous period by generating 500 positive stories per month, 80% of which contain one or more key messages, and 20% of which appear in top-tier media. Sounds good. Even if they achieve all their objectives, they may hit their numbers and fail miserably. Why? Because their competitors aren’t idle: they may have generated 1000 positive stories per month, 90% of which contain three key messages and 40% of which appear in top-tier media. In the absence of competitive benchmarks, your program can only be partially informed and your advice to leadership will be inaccurate or irrelevant.
The Best Benchmarking Metrics
Benchmarking adds insights when done right. The best comparisons to include are:
- Performance versus objectives: Assuming you set measurable objectives at the start, good objectives answer “the what” (what are you measuring), “the when” (the period of activation), the “among whom” (the intended audience), and the “by how much” (the level of improvement). If among your objectives you see, “generate significant buzz,” “break through the media clutter,” or “raise media awareness,” you’re in trouble because they aren’t measurable.
- Performance versus competitors: One of the most compelling measures to management is whether (and the degree to which) you beat competitors. Even if you have many competitors, focus on those that matter most: the market-share leader, the most innovative, and the one that keeps the CEO up at night.
- Performance versus aspirational peers: There are times when your traditional competitive set may not provide the insights you need. Being the best performer among losers is no great distinction. In such cases, you may choose to add an “aspirational peer.” For example, nowadays almost every company competes for talent. Many companies compete for ESG investors regardless of sector. So even if you’re in financial services, you may want to benchmark against Salesforce; widely recognized as a top ESG company and innovator. Benchmarking against aspirational peers enables you to pursue “the best of the best.”
- Performance over time: If you set measurable objectives in the prior period, you can measure the degree to which you improved performance since then. Senior executives may not understand PR or the media, but they recognize continuous improvement. One wrinkle: the state of the media business portends great difficulty if you focus solely on quantitative measures: circulations are down and the emergence of “news deserts,” content sharing through common ownership, and bottom-line struggles for media around the world reveal fewer opportunities for media placements.
Even if your senior leadership knows little to nothing about public relations, all you may need to show is that you beat the competition, exceeded your objectives, and improved over last year to prove that you spent the organization’s PR investment wisely.
Improve Your Communications with Benchmarking
Benchmarking provides context and learning opportunities that enable you to be – or beat – the best. Like all communications research and evaluation, benchmarking takes place throughout the public relations cycle rather than at the end of a sequence. Benchmark early and often to guide your progress towards continuous improvement every step of the way.
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Mark Weiner is Chief Insights Officer at PublicRelay. He is the author of “Public Relations Technology, Data and Insights” which is available for preorder now.
Originally published in PRNEWS March 2021 issue.