Does PR Really “Build Awareness?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone said “Goals must be measurable,” I’d have a nice little lump in my wallet. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen “Increase awareness of brand X” as a goal with no plans to measure pre- and post-awareness levels, I’d have to open a savings account.

We rarely prove if we actually built awareness. Many times we infer and imply that we built awareness based on media relations outcomes like impressions and advertising value equivalency. But who really knows if more of the client’s target customers actually are aware that the client exists?

Where’s the disconnect? If we PR folks say goals must be measurable, why do we still throw in that benign “raising awareness” goal that we know will never be measured?

If, for whatever reason, we can’t measure awareness for a particular client, why can’t we focus on goals we can measure? If you’re going to track total media hits and impressions, create goals for that. If success is a certain number of consumers actually interacting with a product, create goals for that.

The title asks if PR really builds awareness. Of course WE know it does. But are we proving it to others on campaigns where we’ve listed that as a goal?

So, ultimately, my question is this. Why has “increase awareness” become an acceptable, un-measurable goal for us? If CMOs are expecting measurable goals at the beginning of a PR product launch plan presentation, why aren’t we giving them goals we’ll actually measure and show whether or not we achieved?

*Image by Aussiegall.

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11 responses to “Does PR Really “Build Awareness?”

  1. David, are you proposing responsibility for goal achievement? That simply won’t do.

  2. Excellent points, David. In the past, there were limits to how much we could measure awareness without spending a great deal in the process. Fortunately, new technologies are leading to improved and more cost-effective measurement dashboards. As you point out, now we just have to change our behavior and get in the habit of setting specific goals in this area.

  3. An eternal question. It applies to all marketing channels, not just pr. In my college classes, I was taught the steps in the marketing process are: 1) raise awareness, 2) build expectations, 3) generate trial, 4) etc. leading to build brand loyalty. Some of the softer steps can be measured through research, although that has never been very satisfying. “Sales are flat, but yowzers, look how well we scored in unaided awareness.” Of course, trial can be measured with hard numbers. But where is the linkage between awareness and sales? (One of the great advantages of interactive marketing.) I agree with your conclusion: establish metrics for every step of the process and establish correlations.

  4. Hi David, Kellye pointed me to your post. Great points here.

    As Kirk stated, it goes further than just PR but many aspects of marketing. It’s the invisible ‘metric’ that many execs I know love to hear about.

    Definitely a change in behavior is needed but might need a bit of an education as to why not. And then having the ability to plan out goals that are visually (numerically) attainable.

  5. @Jay – hilarious! I almost lost my Mr. Pibb laughing at that one.

    @Kellye – I think that’s the key. If we agree goals should be measurable, then we should set measurable goals. Right on.

    @Kirk and @Sonny – I agree that it gets tossed around by too many folks, including those outside of PR. Thought I’d call us out on it, especially since we tend to get dinged for having too many “soft” measurements anyways.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  6. brilliant post. Actually, there are a few companies that really do pre-post metrics to determine shifts in perceptions and awareness, but they are few and far between. Interestingly, however, their CMOs and VPs of PR have remarkable longevity. When will marketing folks realize that accountability not only builds credibility but job security.

  7. Whoa! If you were only a fly on the wall of the meeting I just left. It was all about setting “measurable goals” and as you might imagine we fumbled our way through most of it. I agree that this issue relates to areas outside of PR, in fact I was the only PR person in the room. Nicely written! This one gets saved.

  8. David, great points and great questions. It seems like “building awareness” has become a goal for every PR effort. If we’re not even trying measure it, what’s the point? I guess the assumption is that good PR will generate media placement, and media placement contributes to public awareness.

    …as the kids say, “Well, dur!”

    If we’re assuming that PR builds awareness, then that goal basically becomes a given. So what’s the point of even writing it down?

  9. We usually state specific metrics when developing a program to raise awareness – such as measureable increase in online buzz/chatter, increase in media placements, etc. But I see what you are saying – even if we can show increased blog posts/comments about a client or increased media coverage, does that necessarily equate to increased awareness among target consumers/customers? I say it does, and I’d be wager most people would agree, but we’re still not connecting the dots all the way. I am now expecting you to come up with a solution for all of this, David!

  10. @Lara – Ha! No pressure!

    The solution is specific metrics that you are going to measure. Which could be “increase awareness.” As long as you’re going to measure pre- and post-awareness levels.

    I’m not saying “increase awareness” is bad. I’m saying that if we list it as a goal, we should be ready to measure it and say – through data – either “yes we did” or “no we didn’t” on the results.

  11. ah, the age old paradox. Everyone agrees that ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’. But when faced with the realities of the cost of capturing perception in a target audience before a campaign and again after, and then having a real analysis done… well suddenly the purse-strings draw tight.

    Ultimately any marketing effort – PR included – aims to alter (or potentially reinforce) behavioural patterns amongst a pre-determined audience. And no other metric can directly gauge that (not sales, hits, Media Relations Rating Points, clicks, visits, etc) other than actually talking to that audience.

    So while ‘increasing awareness’ is not just valid, it’s critical, the ability to actually measure that is far too often not seen in the same light… unfortunately.

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