I received some unwelcome news recently. A friend called to say he had been laid off from his position in the corporate communications division of a major company. The company, he said, was cutting back its public relations budget and his job was one of the first to go. PR professionals shouldn’t necessarily be surprised by that news.
Too many times I’ve sat in meetings and listened as public relations reps talked about how our company wasn’t pouring enough money into PR. Our company, they said, needed to raise its profile. We needed money to take journalists out for dinner, to throw parties, and to get t-shirts and stickers made. Our public relations department needed to travel to trade shows. And they needed more support staff to pitch stories and help come up with collateral material. The response from myself, and the other people involved in the company’s finance, was always the same: You need to quantify your expenditures.
It’s difficult to quantify public relations. Advertising, especially in today’s age of web click-throughs, can be easily quantified. But how do you make the correlation between a positive article in a major newspaper and increased revenue? The simple answer: you don’t.
What public relations reps need to do, now more than ever, is to work closely with the people who run the business and bring in the revenue. To be effective, PR people need to fully understand how the company makes its money. I don’t just mean what products does a company sell, but how does the company sell.
My recently fired friend said the biggest challenge facing his staff was that they were given no boundaries outside of a budget.
“We were never told to help increase sales,” he said. “They always just told us to get good ink. And then when they let some of us go, they told us it was because our department was losing money. How does a corporate communications department make money? We’re supposed to be a loss-leader.”
When I asked what he, as a manager, would have done differently, he said he would have communicated better with the “higher-ups” to find out what they expected from the department.
“We’d go into meetings with other department heads and they’d sort of look at us like we were aliens,” he said. “Only when there was some sort of PR crisis, which they created, did they treat us with respect. I asked a friend in our global sales department once why we were treated like dirt and he told me, ‘You guys don’t make us any money, you just spend it.’ The problem is, he was right.”
Correct on one level, yes. But not entirely.
We all know that public relations departments are basically money-holes, at least from a bottom line standpoint. But we also know that public relations is part of the sales, marketing and internal engines that drive companies. Companies that don’t practice effective public relations suffer on all fronts. Poor public perception leaks into the sales process, hindering the ability to generate revenue. It also hurts employee morale and the possibility of attracting talented employees. Bad relations with the media can likewise hurt a company’s ability to generate revenue by limiting the amount of news flow available to prospective customers. And without public relations contacts, the overall message of the company cannot be relayed throughout the company and community.
These are the most important facets of public relations. While it may be difficult to quantify how PR brings in revenues, it’s easy to quantify how PR can help retain revenues. And this may help save your job.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.