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Reporting on PR: Finding the Right Balance

How much time does your PR agency or internal PR team spend on reporting? Do regular reports help you accomplish your PR goals, or could those hours be better spent on other activities?


Our team recently spent more than 80 hours on a monumental reporting exercise for a startup client we’ve been working with this year. Although the report provided many actionable insights that the client’s management team needed, it’s possible that the time spent creating it may have been better spent on other endeavors, such as writing pitches to high-profile journalists and bloggers, or scheduling analysts calls. Perhaps a less detailed report would have sufficed, and some of the hours could have been redirected to generating new opportunities. It’s hard to tell.

Reporting is often requested or even required by executive management, as it helps organizations with budgeting and forecasting. It also helps teams understand where time’s being spent and where efforts can be optimized. But how much reporting is necessary — and how often — is about finding the right balance.


Proving PR’s Value

Different companies need PR reports for different reasons. In some companies, the PR team struggles to justify their value. Data-driven marketing departments can provide open rates, click throughs and conversions to show their direct impact on the pipeline, and sales departments announce closed deals with significant pomp and circumstance, hailing the sales person that secured the win.

Amid all this noise, PR may seem extraneous or nonessential — especially to those who lack understanding of its purpose and impact on a company’s ability to generate awareness and create a presence within a target market. Hence the perceived need for detailed reporting — PR needs to prove its worth, and upper management expects justification for the expense.

While it’s certainly easy to measure how many mentions the PR team earns in industry journals, how many awards they secure through submissions, or the number of analyst calls completed in a given quarter, that might not tell you much. PR’s true value isn’t quantifiable. Without PR, brands increase their risk of not standing out, not being heard and not being considered, and a company with a lesser product and solid PR strategy will likely make a bigger splash and garner more market share faster than a company without one.

Can you prove that with reporting? Probably not. Therein lies the rub.

What? No Reporting?

A Waters Agency client recently instructed our team not to do ANY reporting. She feels it’s a waste of time, because the results will speak for themselves. “Can you really measure the performance of PR anyway, the way you can measure Marketing’s ability to generate click- throughs and conversions?” she said. Whereas those metrics are data-driven and represent actual events that can be measured and counted, the influence and reach of a well-crafted PR strategy is hard to pin down or demonstrate.

And it takes time — sometimes quite a bit of time — to build enough momentum and start seeing concrete results. This momentum is critical to the success of the PR effort, even though its impact may not be obvious at first.

Say, for example, you secure a Forbes contributed post, but no mentions in other publications for the month. The long-term impact of the post could be more powerful than three mentions in lesser publications. Or say your PR team is working to develop a story that will have significant relevance two to three months from now, and they have their eyes on a particular issue of a target publication. Rather than flooding the journalists with pitches now that won’t be accepted, they’re waiting to throw the punch. Such high-value efforts won’t be quantifiable on this month’s report, but in time, they’ll pack a wallop.

Still, that won’t translate well in reporting. If executive management sees “Wrote one contributed piece that will be published two months from now,” they may think the PR team isn’t doing its job. In this case, it’s easy to see why a CMO may not want to report anything — yet.


A Balancing Act

Finding the right balance depends on several factors, not the least of which is whether your company is in growth mode or already established in the marketplace. The PR goals for those two scenarios are very different, and PR efforts will have varying degrees of impact.

A large, established market leader will garner PR opportunities with relative ease, and reporting will more accurately indicate the level of effort by the PR team. In growth-stage startups, reporting is still important, but momentum may be slower to build, and the focus should be on getting up and running. Other factors include preparing for an IPO or working to attract investors, for which reporting may be more essential.

In some companies, reporting is part of the culture; management may request extensive reporting on everything. The danger here is that PR teams may tailor their efforts towards what will look best in a report, rather than what will yield the best outcomes in the long-term — and that’s detrimental to the organization. The last thing you want to do is stifle your PR team’s ability to drive awareness and build your brand, simply because you want to wow executive management with numbers.

It Comes Down to Trust

When an organization has confidence in the CMO to partner with the right PR firm, reporting becomes less important. Executive management can be content knowing that the CMO is happy with the job PR is doing and that the investment will eventually pay off. That doesn’t mean occasional reporting on PR activities should be thrown out the window, but less justification will be required. The focus will be on long-term value, which will become evident as the brand builds momentum, and the opportunities start rolling in at an accelerated pace.

Until then, education is key. Helping management understand the long-term value of a solid PR strategy will put their minds at ease and help build trust. Reporting may still be necessary, but it won’t determine whether the organization sticks with their PR firm or not. Instead, it will serve as a conversation starter that helps organizations collaborate on the best approach, determine what’s working well and what’s not, and hone PR strategy — all with the end goal of optimizing results.

Waters Agency knows a lot about PR reporting, and can advise you on how to leverage it to meet your PR goals. Contact us today for a consultation.

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