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Stirring the BS PR $hitstorm

Nov 3, 2011

I didn’t want to write a post like this, but alas, the public relations $hitstorm must be stirred yet again.

What do I mean by this? Last week, MediaPost (where I have a bi-weekly column) published an article by George Simpson, president of George H. Simpson Communications, titled “More PR BS” where he cried foul over a piece written by Rosanna M. Fiske, chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America. In it, Fiske calls for better accountability when it comes to measuring PR’s ROI, or return on investment in marketing non-speak.

Simpson characterizes her 508-word article (it really was that long, I checked) as a blatant waste of time; a classic example of bloated PR language that promises much, yet says little. The article champions seven principles for measuring global standards as highlighted by a recent conference in Barcelona, Spain. The obvious heavy hitters include: quantitative goal setting, measuring outcomes (like increased business revenue or number of media clips) versus measuring the cost of what goes into a campaign, and the crème de la crème of the measuring sciences – the ability to replicate ones results.

While I agree with their obviousness, and to some extent the redundant nature of Fiske’s post, I really don’t see the need to throw Fiske under the public relations bus. When I first read Simpson’s provocative title, I truly wanted to agree with him.

There really is a lot of BS that goes in PR.

Our world filled with, no, gorged on superfluous language. (Simpson, by the way, manages to throw in the word circumloquacious – pot, kettle, black) But I really don’t see the harm in reemphasizing the need for measurable standards in an industry with a track record of, errrr, circumloquacious language and standards.

The fact remains that in order for Public Relations to be taken (more) seriously, it needs to better address these issues. Like political science and psychology, PR struggles at times with applying the scientific method to its results.

In other words, sometimes a little from column A and a little from column B doesn’t add up to C. But this obstacle hasn’t stopped the other two disciplines from growing and gaining legitimacy. Neither should it stymie PR.

Simpson’s overly simple litmus test for a successful PR campaign is if after said event the phones start ringing: ringing from your client, ringing from fans that they liked what they saw or read in the papers or on other digital media, and ringing from your enemies that you’ve stolen their thunder or piggybacked on a campaign they had already pioneered for their clients.

Is it all really that simple?

Ah, no.

I wonder what would happen if Mr. Simpson tried to disarm one of his client’s concerns by saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll know if our campaign was a marketing hit once the phones start ringing.”

Forgive me, but if I was one of those clients, I’d be desperate for something a little more reassuring.  You know, something more measureable, like at least an attempt at business-world serious ROI figures. Barcelona and the Fiske-endorsed seven principles may not be making the world safe for democracy, ending world hunger, or returning humankind to the moon, but at least it’s a start.

That’s a lot more than I can say for Simpson’s “Put together a string of good stories in good publications” lukewarm advice.

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