PR Gets a Push up the Ranks

Formal measurement and evaluation are at a record high in the South African reputation management sector — jumping from 60% in 2019 to 79% in 2022. External agencies are leading the charge, with in-house practitioners the least likely to have a formal process in place. This has emerged from the release this week of the “South African PR Landscape Report 2022” compiled by research agency Ornico in partnership with Tersia Landsberg Boshoff, a strategic communication specialist.

The study says indicators also point to a more strategically aligned PR professional emerging, with 79% mostly fulfilling a role that entails environmental scanning, goal alignment and translating the impact of stakeholders to management.

The survey reveals that this year most practitioners are included in strategic decisions in their organisations and 40% report directly to executive management. There is now a strong theoretical link between the inclusion of the PR practitioner and their ability to execute their function with stronger strategic intent. The survey says this link leads to more mature measurement practices. The survey polled more than 100 local PR professionals with just over half working for agencies.

An ongoing complaint in the PR industry is lack of access to the C-suite. One agency MD tells the FM: “For years I have operated in a world of meetings cancelled by company directors and constantly being at the beck and call of junior communications staffers, who simply see my agency as a press release and staff memo writing factory.

“We are only called on when there is a crisis, and then [we are] confronted with why we did not predict it, or told to make it go away. I sense that the approach is now changing [and am delighted about it] because in the world of social media, reputation can be torn to shreds in a single tweet. We can only do our work when we have high-level access.”

The report endorses that sentiment, saying top-level access is critical because a PR team can ensure the alignment of their efforts with their client’s goals. In that respect, close on 30% of respondents say they are likely to be included in meetings or sessions where strategic decisions are being made.

While recognition of output measurement has improved in the industry, practitioners still bemoan a lack of funding in this respect. Asked what prevents them from measuring and evaluating campaigns, almost 60% of those polled cite budget constraints, way ahead of other factors such as lack of research skills (12%) and support from management (9%).

A PR agency financial manager tells the FM: “It is pointless spending money with us to do the work and then hold back on budget to see how we are performing. There are a number of effective measurement tools available to the industry; the agency and its clients need to work out at the beginning of the relationship what will work best and then allocate funds. Otherwise, the relationship is a waste of time.”

The PR industry could do a lot better when it comes to social media measurement. According to the Center for Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University in the US, social media, with its real-time messaging, allows PR to be stronger and more impactful. It says content published via news releases, e-mails and other PR-related means can live longer, spread faster and reach further with the help of social media. The centre says social media has also allowed PR to reach a much larger audience.

“Previously, PR was targeted at specific individuals, such as investors and business partners, but social media has caused this target group to be expanded to include all persons vital to the success of a business. Social media has made PR more friendly to all stakeholders of a business. This helps companies to be more warm, inviting and approachable, regardless of their type or nature.”

The South African report notes, however, that only 29% of respondents strongly agree they are measuring social media consistently with other channels, with about the same number setting clear goals for social media platforms.

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.