When public relations agencies evaluate their financial performance, they often look at reporting as a cost center rather than a profit driver. That’s a mistake that may lead to unnecessary frustration and money left on the table.
The reality is that measurement and evaluation can help to drive agency profitability. It can improve results for clients, increase retention rates, and identify new revenue opportunities. Used thoughtfully, media monitoring and analysis tools will add a meaningful number to the bottom line.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways that agencies should use reporting tools and services to drive profitable activity.
Prove ROI to clients
Clients love to ask about the return on their investment. Executives frequently question the efficacy of public relations activities. That puts agency leaders on the hot seat being asked to explain why the client should continue to invest in them.
At the same time, agencies know that retaining and growing existing client relationships contributes more to the bottom line than constantly hunting for new business to replace churned accounts.
That’s why one of the most common uses for reporting and evaluation is to communicate to clients how well the communications program is working and what results it is producing. Well-structured reports can help to demonstrate the ROI of the agency’s work – not just at the time of renewal but throughout the engagement.
Identify media opportunities
While media databases represent one way to target outreach opportunities, effective media monitoring and analysis can often identify more timely prospects. This is especially true since most journalists actively talk about what they’re working on or interested in via their social media profiles, while databases often lack such insights and are frequently out-of-date.
Moreover, reporting on where competitors and industry influencers receive coverage can often help to reveal new outlets or reporters to target to expand the reach of existing communications activity.
Improve messaging for better results
With the increasing power of automated analysis coupled with human expertise, detailed media evaluation programs can hone in on the pickup of key messages and spokespeople. That enables agencies to truly understand what’s working and what needs improvement.
Gone are the days when massive clipbooks dropped on a conference room table demonstrated results. Clients now expect and deserve the relentless improvement of results that comes from the ability to more carefully and thoroughly examine the substance of the media coverage in much shorter timeframes.
The information that an agency garners in this process can help to make the refinements to messaging that are needed to produce better results, drive up retention, and reveal opportunities to expand the client relationship.
Fuel content creation
Most PR agencies have moved well beyond media relations and frequently create content not just for traditional media outlets but also for social media, client blogs, and other platforms.
Developing ideas and performing the research needed to create effective content can take time, but a strong monitoring and measurement program will help to reduce the amount of work required and improve the end product.
As artificial intelligence makes run-of-the-mill content easier to produce, agencies will increasingly be looked to in order to create more original and thoughtful content – something that a strong reporting effort will facilitate.
Strengthen client relationships
When agencies provide reports to clients they should focus not just on the core substance (which is obviously important) but also the presentation.
Using your analysis and evaluation tools to identify key findings that resonate with client executives makes it more likely that your reports will be widely shared and consumed.
That provides you with an opportunity to effectively brand the reports that you produce so that it isn’t just your day-to-day client contact that sees your agency as a key player, but rather the entire executive team who sees the reports you produce and the results you help create.
Build strategic plans
Clients often lament that their agencies aren’t strategic enough. That’s partly because most agencies spend so much time executing and don’t take enough time to step back and take a 30,000 foot view of the challenge.
Effective reporting and analysis will help make the most of your time and when paired with your agency’s expertise can help you to fulfill the client’s desire to see more strategic thinking.
As important, you can use the information developed by your reporting activities in order to back up your strategies with clear examples and data that help support your perspectives and plans.
Reduce staff costs
Any agency leader understands that labor costs represent the largest expense for the business and any effort to improve profitability must look at ways to improve efficiency and reduce staff hours.
An effective approach to reporting that includes selecting the right tools and services for the job can equate to a substantial reduction in labor cost.
When I first got started in the agency world in the early 1990s, I spent a good chunk of my day getting newsprint on my fingers, using a razor blade to cut out articles, and then photocopying those clips. The analysis we did required reading paper copies and manually entering lots of data into a spreadsheet or database program.
Today’s reporting tools can make the entire process more streamlined as long as you look for the right solutions. Too many agencies still lean on manual searches and data entry where automation and outsourced assistance can be much more cost effective and profitable for the business.
Spotlight agency expertise
Effective monitoring and analysis isn’t important just for agency clients. It can benefit the agency itself by helping to improve its own media coverage.
Many agencies that focus on specific sectors or regions can also leverage their reporting tools to create newsletters and research reports that positions their expertise to journalists as well as current and future clients.
Just as media coverage and content marketing can benefit clients, it can add to the agency’s bottom line when it treats itself as a client.
Uncover business development targets
Just as automated searches of traditional and social media can identify media targets for outreach opportunities, it can be used to help zero in on potential new clients for the agency itself.
For example, an agency might look for clients within its area of specialty who have hired new a new CEO, CMO, or CCO. That often represent a time when the business may reevaluate its agency partners.
Another opportunity might be to see which companies within a target area are receiving less coverage than their competitors – representing a potential opportunity to pitch them on improving their share of voice.
While we typically think of media measurement and analysis in terms of communications and marketing, it’s important to remember that it also holds a place as a tool to help sales.
When agencies stop thinking about reporting as an expense that needs to be kept as low as possible and instead looks at it as investment in growth opportunities, it enables them to turn it into a profit center.
Just as clients look at the agency to balance the cost with the return on that investment, so should agencies look to their media monitoring and evaluation providers to help them maximize the results and profitability that they can help drive.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Measurement Standard.