January 2011

Communicators face a challenge when it comes to showing results. This is a long-standing challenge in PR. Many of the “standard” measurements really aren’t of value, but somehow along the way – they became what we did.

Counting clippings used to be one way of measurement. It showed how much ink, airtime or online coverage you generated. Even when you dig deeper and review key messages, placement, tone and style, images and other factors, you still aren’t getting the whole picture. What else happened that day? Were there world events that distracted people from paying attention? What context was the coverage in?

There is so much more to measuring the effectiveness of a PR initiative.

Today, we see the world differently. We talk about “influencers” and what they mean. We track how we measure influence as well as looking at the hard and fast facts of which media outlet or blogger mentioned our organization, product, service or event. There may be more depth in how we measure, but it’s important to keep it in context and to understand the bigger picture. What was the overall objective of the campaign? Where were you before you started – do you have a measurement of that? Did you want to move individuals or groups to action, to change behaviors, to inform and educate? It is more complicated than just looking at how many followers you have on Twitter or how many people visited your website.

Katie Delahaye Paine has an excellent blog post on this topic that’s worth a read.

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Years ago I was working at Maclean’s magazine and writing primarily for The People Page. The items on the page were short – about a paragraph in length and each short piece needed a strong headline.

I loved writing for The People Page. First off, it was the most-read page in the magazine and I liked the challenge of putting interesting, entertaining and informative stories into 100 words or less. And I love writing headlines. It’s not as easy as you think to be smart and witty in five words and describe the article.

Fast forward to now. Social media demands short, snappy and interesting pieces. All those late nights of struggling to turn a two-hour interview into a 100 words is paying off for our clients. I understand not only how to keep it short; I know why it’s important. As communicators, we only have seconds to capture someone’s attention and we’re competing with a lot of “stuff” for that attention. Knowing your audience is key, understanding what your objectives are is important and seeing the world in one-sentence connections is valuable.

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Nothing gets our juices flowing in the AHA PR office more than the opportunity to pitch media and bloggers. Coming up with the right idea that will get a journalist or blogger to learn more about a client’s organization or their product or service takes more effort than most people outside of PR realize. It is part art, part science and part magic – I think.

While we still believe that there is value in a news release, more and more these days, we find ourselves developing pitches for a specific journalist or blogger. We write the pitch as if we were writing it for an editor – with stats, facts and why this story idea is relevant to the readership or audience of that journalist. It is an interesting process and one that takes the effort of several of the AHA crew. We put the pitch through its paces, reviewing it through the eyes of a busy journalist who receives a lot of pitches in a day. We look at it with the “who cares” lens – and ask why anyone would care about this information?  If we can’t confidently explain who would care and why – the pitch needs to be reworked. And if we keep hitting the who cares phase and we can’t get past it – sometimes, we need to go back and speak with our client about taking a different angle or, perhaps, coming to terms with the fact that while this information is of value to a specific audience relevant to their organization, that it may not be of value to a larger, more public audience.

Ragan.com has a great piece written by tech journalist David Pogue of the New York Times. We’re big fans of Pogue’s work – not only does he know his stuff, he is a genuinely nice guy and he’s really funny. (Several years ago, he was a speaker at the Ragan Social Media Conference and there was a technical glitch with his presentation. Pogue sat down at the grand piano on the stage and performed a fun, lively little number taking a poke at communicators and reporters for us while the challenges were being fixed.)

In this piece Pogue shows two pitches that got his attention. Getting the attention of the New York Times tech journalist is a pretty great thing – this is worth a read.

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