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Published October 14th 2015

Industry Opinion: When it Comes to PR, Time Shouldn’t Equal Money

Chris Owen of Grayling talks to us about the need to rethink the way PR is measured, in today's Industry Opinion column.

There’s been much debate recently about the expansion of PR into areas beyond its ‘traditional’ remit – namely, media and influencer relations.

It’s a positive sign that PR is getting the recognition it deserves.

As a function, it is rightly moving closer toward the core of the brand proposition and driving more of the strategic narrative creation, development and implementation that for too long sat with planners and advertising agencies.

A successful brand proposition is founded upon solid communication, storytelling and conversation, so it makes sense that PR should be taking more share of the spend.

Safe isn’t always best

However, a fundamental issue that PR had in its previous guise – and one it still suffers from today – is that it was simply never very good at proving or justifying itself and instead simply drove ‘units’ of results, backed up with hourly rates of servicing.

The industry was too poor at showcasing success and aligning a sophisticated, strategically-relevant means of measurement and cost o the outcomes it achieved, instead dwelling far too much on outputs in the time-honored fashion of safe, reliable KPIs.

“We’ll get you three briefings for this much money,” we’d promise and then – hopefully – deliver, whilst simultaneously aligning this with a time-based budget plan.


This approach flew in the face of sanity when considered properly – after all, if you’ve spent seven, eight, even nine years nurturing a relationship with a key journalist, how do you price the five minute phone call to them to secure a briefing and the potential resultant coverage?

Do you charge by the five minute call, and cost it at a mere handful of dollars, or do you charge for the seven years it took to be able to make that call and have it answered and listened to, and bankrupt your client?

Of course, one measurement that somehow was never nipped in the bud at outset was the much-derided (rightly, in my opinion) AVE. Quite why PR for so long sought to measure itself via demonstrating a finger-in-the-air equivalent from another industry is beyond me.

It was a desperate approach to somehow equate monetary value to the time it took to achieve results, as the industry was either not competent enough, (or perhaps confident enough), to consider alternatives.

Redefining value and success

The opportunity for PR, especially now AVE has been all but banished to the communications badlands, lies in redefining its value to the brand and the client.

We have the chance to start again, and not simply repeat old mistakes in the new landscape in which we operate.


Influencer relations inherently involves those beyond the column-inch creators, as PR expands to everyone with a role to play in influencing purchase decisions.

In embracing them as part of our strategic planning, we need new means to prove success.

This needs buy-in from the client, as to truly measure success we need access to data, sales leads, traffic and insight into what goes on behind the scenes.

But it could prove the Holy Grail for PRs to finally give the industry more clout (note the ‘c’ – the ‘k’ klout is another matter entirely), and to justify our role in the communications mix.

What’s more, it should allow us to define work through tangible, data-led results, not just through media relations deliverables.

But it needs buy-in from all sides to do so, and it also needs to move away from time-based measurement and costing.

PR has never been in a stronger position than it enjoys now – we just need to ensure we maintain the boldness and don’t allow the industry to fall back into old, safe routines based on output, rather than business/client outcome.

Chris is going to be a regular contributor to the Brandwatch Blog. Find out more about Grayling by clicking here.

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