It originated in the 1960s as a response to the “product management” drive, which focused on the quality of a product assuming that if the product was of a high enough standard it would be bought and to the “selling” drive, which focused on shifting products without looking at consumer needs.
“Customer marketing” originally focused on a B2C audience and involves researching customer needs and wants, and then developing the product, its price, its promotion, and its distribution to suit those needs better. As you might expect for a new discipline, “marketing’ had no real centre of focus in the early days. Company organization charts of the time show the profession as reporting into different product lines rather than existing as a function in its own right.
By the 1980s, customer marketing began to be expanded to cover a B2B audience as well as a B2C one.
At about the same time, branding techniques began to develop as a means of distinguishing one seller’s product from those of others.
Broadly by the 1990s, the discipline had evolved to be the champion of a holistic customer experience focusing on every point at which customers experience an organisation through the life of their relationship rather than on a product by product interaction. For example, the mobile phone company O2 would look across all of its customer interactions when defining its customers’ experience too – whether at the shop where they buy the phone, or at the customer service centre they call to enquire, or at the bill they receive through the post.
The growth of websites and mobile devices at the same time encouraged this focus further because it has empowered the customer base. Customer comments on websites and social media can quickly be publicised and so control of information has become more difficult.
These were the years of marketing’s growth as a standalone functional department – existing in its own right apart from HR, Finance, and Manufacturing. I was starting my career in BT in the mid-Nineties and joined its standalone marketing group.
By the Noughties, marketing began to grow up. The concept of integrated or holistic marketing had developed. This takes the view that you cannot successfully market something by solely focusing on product, price, promotion, and distribution. Rather, you need to have the whole business on message for marketing to work effectively. So, marketing teams began to guide each part of the business while being coordinated centrally. So at PA Consulting Group, my marketing and communications group had a corporate centre, but with marketing teams sitting in each sector, service, and country of operation.
So Marketing has changed rapidly in just fifty years.
And therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that the measurement of marketing has changed too.
Marketing measurement began as a measure of outputs. How many ads were placed? How many mails were sent? As you might expect, there was little consistency in the way that such items were measured as marketing originated in lots of standalone units. The contribution of the output to the whole could be inferred because marketing sat as part of a bigger unit.
This approach was exposed more in the Eighties and Nineties as marketing became a standalone function. This was the era in which output metrics were standardized. New metrics began to be created too to recognize new marketing specialisms – at O2 we would identify “Moments of Truth” like whether someone’s bill was correct and we’d measure an output around that such as the number of bill enquiries into our customer service centre.
And because marketing was now a standalone function, we needed to start measuring inputs – staff and activity costs. This allowed us to look at early versions of ROMI – Return on Marketing Investments – calculations.
As marketing has become more integrated with the business, so we’ve reached a point where it is important to measure outcomes. The impact of what marketing is doing for the business is important.
I work for British Land. British Land builds, leases, and operates shopping centres, retail parks, and office campuses across the UK. For example, Broadgate is a 32-acre office and retail campus next to Liverpool Street Station. The business objective for this campus is to grow revenues from it. There are a number of ways of doing that – one is to increase the rent that retailer occupiers pay us. Now we can’t just do that. Rental increases are a process of negotiation. Our retailer occupiers obviously want to know they are paying for a fair deal. And what makes a fair deal? Well they will pay more rent if they are more satisfied with store performance and if more of their target customers are walking into their shops and restaurants that’s going to help. Therefore if I can run events in my campus that will attract their target audience and I can then convert them into retail visitors that’s a win. And so that’s one of the things my marketing team does.
And we can measure it. We can measure inputs: the cost of the event in time and money. We can measure outputs: how many people have attended the event can be assessed through electronic counters; segmentation of attendees can be picked up through on-site customer research. We can measure outcomes by using footfall counters to track where event attendees go next. And if we wish, we can use voucher redemption to track if an event attendee buys in the retail venue. And we can measure the broader outcome: rental increases among retailer occupiers with higher customer satisfaction.
The measurement of marketing has evolved. It’s had to evolve as the profession of marketing has changed. We’re no longer sat in a product department stuffing envelopes. Now we’re overseeing an SEO campaign.
PR analytics has not evolved with the times. It’s still stuck in the 1980s. Marketing has owned up to its measurement problem, now public relations must follow.
It seems to be really difficult for PR analytics to get beyond outputs. We seem to be able to get to a base break-down of what the coverage is: article versus mention for instance, also a view of the circulation of the print newspaper for a recent six month period or a vague segmentation of the average person who might at some point in the last year have purchased a paper copy.
Indeed even this lack of detail seems to be uncomfortable to the PR professional. The preference by far is to instead just show a copy of the article that has been placed – shown off like a cat might bring a dead bird into the house as a present for its owner. But really if you want your profession to be taken as a serious marketing tool, we’ve got to do better than that.
Even inputs seem difficult. There is a preference for stating equivalent costs so that I can see how expensive advertising is in comparison for example – rather than to itemize the cost of getting a mention in, say the Daily Mail.
And I don’t think this is a people challenge by the way. I don’t want you to take my assault on PR personally. PR as a discipline is packed with skilled and able professionals. Some of the cleverest people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with are in PR.
But I think the profession is letting down the professional.
So where does the PR professional learn his or her trade? Let’s go to the CIPR. The CIPR’s “The PR Professional’s Handbook” devotes just two of its 370 pages to measurement. And here it suggests acceptable outcomes that are to my mind more input and output-related like lessons learned or the contribution of PR or research method. Indeed pre- and post-research seems to be heavily relied on to reach any sort of outcome at all – something that might be acceptable for a new FMCG product launch but in the low-budget, under-resourced, hard slog of B2B business – lacking in discrete projects – is just untenable.
Just one course in the CIPR’s 2018 35-course-strong training brochure is dedicated to PR measurement.
So it’s not surprising that, according to B2B Marketing magazine, 70% of PR agencies recognise a skills gap in ‘data analytics’ within their organisations.
It doesn’t help that there are plenty of seeming panacea to PR outcome measurement out there – which are not. They’re usually free to use and they’re usually rubbish. It’s easy to be swayed by glossy vanity metrics that claim to be a silver bullet for measuring behaviour online (I’m looking at you Klout). Successful marketing requires logic, rigour and discipline.
Perhaps clients aren’t being demanding enough? B2B Marketing Magazine cites that 35% of PR agencies say ‘share-of-voice’ is the most common way clients gauge success, while the next most selected option is ‘column inches’, cited by 30%. Those measures just aren’t good enough in this day and age.
Perhaps measuring PR is inherently more difficult than measuring marketing? Some PR professionals will tell me that it is difficult because it concerns measuring how humans change in reaction to communication. All kinds of factors complicate this assessment, they say, there are difficulties of context, susceptibility, attribution. But all of these things apply to marketing more broadly, don’t they? Event attendance in Broadgate can be as much affected by the weather, rival attractions – as by the power of my marketing. But that does not stop us from accepting these and still measuring marketing contribution. The world is full of the unforeseeable and the uncontrollable – but we still measure it. Why is PR any different?
So how should PR be measured? Any PR activity will have one of six possible goals: presentation, attention, comprehension, acceptance, retention, and action.
Presentation where PR simply is about getting a message to a target should be an easy win. It isn’t because media bodies are inherently lazy. I want to know the precise demographic who reads a journal. I want to know exactly how many people have picked up a copy of the journal on the day my article is featured. That information has to be achievable and we should campaign for it.
Attention will become easier to gauge as we rely more on digital. There’s a great electronic publishing tool called Turtl that we have rolled out to replace all of British Land’s hard copy brochureware. I’ve always had a problem with that printed brochureware, which is that aside from its expense, it is difficult to know if anyone reads them. Well Turtl can tell me not just who opens the e-brochure, but which pages they visited, and how much time they spent on each page and whether the reader stays at the surf level or immerses. This is the future of publishing and PR can embrace it. And for anything that you do digitally, you can embrace it right here right now. Websites. Mobile. Blogging. Social media.
Time on page and immersion data allows me to edge into the previously measurable only through research worlds of comprehension, acceptance, and retention.
Action where PR has persuaded the target audience to act in a particular way should be the easiest win of all. At British Land, I might push for an article in the Evening Standard’s property supplement on one of our new properties to carry a unique call to action allowing easy measurement. Some PR professionals argue that this puts off media outlets from publishing an article – but not to try for this if your objective is one of action is in my view an abdication of responsibility.
So I think that the PR profession is eminently measurable. It requires clever people like yourselves to apply yourselves to thinking differently – to listen and to respond to what your businesses are asking for. You need backing from your professional bodies in applying training and learning space, and from clients in being properly demanding, and from media companies in providing basic data sets.
The prize is significant. It’s about survival. What is PR’s place in the modern marketer’s armoury?
Chairman of The Business Marketing Club