As communications experts, we should find it easy to convey the value of our services to the business managers in our organizations. Yet many public relations (PR) professionals struggle with expressing results in a way that allows senior executives to easily recognize the impact that PR has on the success of the business.

Having explored the perceptions and attitudes of PR professionals and senior executives toward the impact of PR on business success, I've compiled a list of best-practices for translating intangible PR results into demonstrable success, and reporting PR measurement to business execs.

PR Measurement and Metrics

If you doubt the importance of measurement and metrics, consider the results of a recent Gallup Poll, which showed that executives spend 24% of their time on "plan measurement and monitoring," second only to "strategic thinking/planning."

No surprise, then, that board directors and CEOs are more likely than other professionals to say "measurement is an integral part of PR." If you're not measuring the right activities and then translating the results into bottom-line numbers, you're missing the main avenue to credibility.

Consider how each function in the executive suite adds a tangible and measurable value to a company's success. The CFO ties his team's success to operating income, while the VP of sales and the VP of marketing tie their teams' successes to sales revenues.

By contrast, many PR practitioners cite the number of media clips, impressions, and press releases as the results of their efforts. They compare their respective organization's coverage with that of the company's competitors. They assign monetary value to their work by calculating the advertising value equivalency, or AVE, an often-criticized method of devising a value for media coverage by comparing it with the price of advertising. And while this calculation provides a financial interpretation, it's not necessarily a meaningful one for executives.

In general, PR measurement calculates activity but does nothing to measure the activity's impact on the bottom line. From an executive's viewpoint, it can be interpreted as the difference between the PR team's being busy and the PR team's being indispensable.

Discussing the Value of PR

In a selective study, PR professionals and Fortune 500 executives were asked to discuss the value of PR to their organizations. The executives had trouble expressing PR's contribution in terms they were comfortable with. Meanwhile, the PR professionals understood the qualitative results of their activities but were generally not able to express PR results in ways that were meaningful to executives.

It's as if we are speaking different languages. As PR professionals, we need to demonstrate the value of PR in clear and measurable terms to ensure that executives understand our contributions.

What follows are 10 surefire ways to help you measure the right activities and then translate your results—so that everyone gets the message.

1. Be proactive. If you're sitting back, waiting for your leadership to ask you to measure your efforts, you're missing a good opportunity to jump in and take control of the measurement process.

2. Speak the language of business. Measurement starts with the company's overall business objectives, which should be used to define PR metrics or your communications performance indicators, or CPIs.

3. Use several angles. Measuring just one form of PR activity, such as print-media mentions, doesn't offer a comprehensive view of your PR strategy. And sharing the results of just a few key activities minimizes the value that you actually bring and the impact that you have.

4. Develop a forward-looking PR strategy. By using multifaceted metrics, you can start to identify trends in coverage, sentiment, and favorability. Armed with such analysis, you can begin to anticipate the outcome and consequences of your organization's next move.

5. Offer strategic advice. With metrics in hand, your mission becomes identifying the opportunities and risks facing the company. You need to understand the key business issues and any "cause and effect" relationships that may result from your communications strategy.

6. Opinions + observation + viewpoints = perception. Reality doesn't matter in PR—it's all about managing perception. Perception defines the environment in which the company operates and is often a leading indicator of the company's performance.

7. Measure the quality of media relationships. Behind the scenes, your team works hard to educate the media about your organization and the issues it's concerned with. That constant effort not only ensures good coverage but also prevents you from being linked to unfavorable issues that have little to do with your company. So in addition to providing a balanced view of your coverage, consider developing a way to measure the process of educating the media.

8. Assess the competition. Competitive benchmarking can be done for almost any type of measurement, but it should be based on your company's objectives. surveys and media analysis can be structured to assess your organization's results against those of your competitors.

9. Build and measure strategic relationships. Since PR is primarily concerned with managing perception and building strategic relationships, this should be one of the key metrics that you report to senior leadership. Relationships can be effectively measured through surveys or focus groups.

10. Presentation is important. Recognize that the presentation of your measurement report is important. You must understand your audience and the type of metrics it needs.

Talk in Words They Understand

We've reached the point in business history where measurement is a key driver of business success. The survival of an organization hinges on how well it meets the goals set by its owners and key stakeholders. The more PR measurement and reporting dovetails with corporate objectives, the more likely PR professionals will gain strategic decision-making roles in their organizations.

You must speak the language of business to be heard and to gain a seat at the management table.

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Diane Thieke is executive director, Public Relations & Strategic Communications, for Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group, and author of the e-book Talk To Me: 10 Tips for Translating PR Results into the Language of Business.