I am sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Princesa Sofia in beautiful, sunny Barcelona, reflecting back on a whirlwind two days at the PRWeek Global Congress and Awards. For those not as fortunate to attend or follow the dialog on #PRWeekGlobal, I wanted to share three big takeaways.

  1. Metrics matter. And not just any metrics, but meaningful ones. This might be obvious, but it is clear from both consultants and corporate communicators that we don’t have very good ones. As an industry, we are afraid to commit to being accountable to hard business impacts, and we have very poor ways to measure things like reputation and branding in ways CEOs understand. The rise of digital and the new wave of “big data” has created a lot of simplistic metrics like reach, engagement and fans, but it is clear to me that those are simply papering over the real problem of business relevance and in many ways are distracting comms professionals from their true purpose. Andre Manning, once senior in communications at Philips, shared some alarming stats about the lack of investment in measurement, and when I asked a panel of three leading corporate communicators from very sophisticated companies (GE*, Cargill and Nestle) if they were confident they understood how to measure overall reach and impact in a meaningful way, they said they most certainly were not. APCO has invested a lot in helping improve this for ourselves and our industry, and we are doing so again through our partnership with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) on defining some industry standards for measurement going forward.  It is clear that this is a critical gap, and I continue to be very proud of APCO’s efforts to help close it.
  2. There is tremendous angst about the role of PR. This is also not a shocking revelation, but even in a high powered forum like this, a parade of speakers were talking existentially about the role of PR in the overall communications mix and hoping they are left with a seat at the proverbial table as things converge. The magic moment for me was watching the former Kred CEO, now working as a consultant for IBM, talking about giving advice to his clients on managing online crises, engaging influencers, mobilizing employees and driving up his clients’ Kred scores…at an event organized by PRWeek. Like there isn’t a PR person better positioned to discuss these topics. No wonder our industry isn’t taken seriously. The advice from the experts in the room – which I wholeheartedly endorse – is not to complain about it, but instead to become more business literate and relevant to the bottom line, to be held to account to meaningful business metrics and to demonstrate an understanding of the whole business.  The wonderful Roger Bolton, leader of the Arthur W. Page Society, said it beautifully: “CEOs just want people that can work across the C-Suite; they don’t care if those people happen to work in PR.”
  3. Emotions matter like never before. Although they approached it from different perspectives, many of the speakers talked about the importance of appealing to hearts as well as heads, and to do it by acting like a human instead of a robotic communicator. Penny Studholme from Cargill urged us to “get rid of the corporate language and start acting like people.” Danielle Restivo from LinkedIn shared the company’s wonderful Bring Your Parent To Work campaign, emphasizing the incredible human bonds it created and how those dramatically strengthened and extended the LinkedIn brand. Roma Balwani from Sesa Sterlite in Mumbai talked about the power of emotional-fueled movements and, to my great surprise, proved her case by referencing the fabulous Rise! campaign our advertising arm StrawberryFrog developed for Mahindra. Marketers have long understood the power of emotions in fueling purchase intent and behavior change; it’s great to see PR finally taking the hint.

I’ll close by congratulating my colleagues at APCO for having three of our award submissions receive highly commended recognition – it was an awards event, after all – and reminding everyone that there are worse places in the world to end up than Barcelona, especially on a beautiful two days in mid-May.

*APCO client

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Evan Kraus

Evan Kraus is president, managing director of operations and managing director, Washington at APCO Worldwide. Read More