• Dilip Gopinathan

The need to change Public Relations metrics

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

The rush to arranging an interview & pushing a journalist for coverage since a client is being committed has left new age PRs to do no research, have no subject matter expertise of the brand/ domain. Read on to understand how a brand needs to set their Public Relations objective right

The phone rang - Hello, I have this urgent requirement for PR assistance. While we have a strong internal PR team, our company is in the need of immediate coverage in the next one month. Let us keep the costing to a bare minimum.

Needless to say, I refrained from entertaining the so called client.

In this age of entrepreneurship porn, the concerns haunting our so-called-disruptors is; goodwill generation rather than being guided by foresight, setting internal process & structure and revenue generation. Such firms focus on creating hype even before they could achieve anything of measurable significance – A classic example of putting the cart before the horse.

In the quest to increase the startup’s goodwill valuation, the PR agency/associate is just tasked with getting coverage in select publications so as to make the client’s pitch more worthy to their potential investors. While Goodwill definitely is an added bonus on the assets column of the balance sheet, it should not be overshadowed by the actual metrics – bottom line income, scope of growth and value generation.

I would like to pause here and share an interesting observation of two cafes in my neighborhood:

There was this newly launched café serving English breakfast. The launch was associated with a lot of interior decoration and select media reporting the launch. It added a certain degree of pomp to its launch. Six months into the launch, the empty café decided to play the price-war. They slashed the breakfast cost to as little as Rs. 35 (less than a dollar) for a limited period, without re-working on their menu or acting on consumer feedback. While this got the initial influx of crowd, on the flip side it increased the number of potential consumers complaining about the quality of food. Needless to say, it shut shop within a year of its operations (this, despite generating the initial splash of press coverage).

On a parallel street there was a similar café that opened up about a year later. The launch was kept low with only family members attending the opening ceremony. While the initial traction of customers was low, the owner refrained from playing price-wars. Instead he took valuable feedback and got innovative with the menu, furniture and interiors. This got the initial trickle of footfalls. Gradually he did something extra. He adopted a friendly street dog which not only became a part of the café’s family, it also created a sense of camaraderie and a set of loyal consumers who saw that the café stood for something more than just serving quality food in a cozy environment. They understood the café was guided by a deep sense of purpose too. In short the owner first focused on the essentials before publicizing the café on a larger scale. Not only is his café now implementing interesting but cost effective campaigns, he is garnering proactive media traction and being a part of social media conversations. The last I heard, he was approached by an investor offering him a lucrative business proposition, which he politely declined. But, this he said, got him thinking of his next venture in the food space.

So, what has this got to do with the common public relations metrics?? Maybe everything!!

This observation helped me realize that for any industry to thrive, it has to adapt itself to the changing environment. We have seen this in the success of the café in the above example and in the failure of a prominent mobile company in the recent past.

Likewise, the role of an agency needs to be revamped and innovative. A public relations partnership should extend beyond the scope of merely generating press coverage. The output needs to be more tangible. With the invasion of digital medium, automation, and changing patterns of news reporting, the old factors governing the PR industry need to change. Newer metrics like community building, customizing cost-effective integrated outreach strategies, studying industry reports, competition strategy to suggest potential industry or consumer partnerships, online reputation & crisis management, syncing the PR objectives to all departments within the company (including sales) need to be implemented. This will not only generate meaningful content for the press, but will also expand the scope of implementing digital metrics in the PR campaigns. In a nutshell, the PR association should function more like a business partnership.

It no longer makes sense to be sitting in the boardroom discussing the coverage generated without being able to back it up with tangible results. I’ve personally seen presentations where certain products were no longer in the market despite splashes of quality coverage.

PS: I did have the privilege of working with a couple of start-ups who are enthusiastic, innovative, and guided by a deep sense of purpose too. A few of them, I still continue to be associated with.