Axle Member Spotlight

Greg Jarboe

Measuring PR in Cold, Hard Cash
By Greg Jarboe

Back in 1986, I became the Director of Corporate Communications at Lotus. According to Carrie Snyder, I was the 13th Director of Corporate Communications, and that was when the company was only 4-1/2 years old.

After my first month on the job, I took a very thick book of about 700 magazine and newspaper clippings that weíd received, walked down the hall to CEO Jim Manziís office, and casually dropped it on his desk. Manzi took a quick look and said, "Jarboe, if I could deposit these in a bank, Iíd know what they were worth. But, until you can measure the impact of PR in cold, hard cash, donít waste my time with these so-called reports."

Then, he added, "I know how much money Iíd save if I laid off half of the people in your department (of 24). I just donít know what impact it would have on sales. So, youíve got six months to figure it out."

While Iíd worked in high tech public relations at Wang Laboratories, Stratus Computer, and Data General for five years before joining Lotus, Iíd never encountered this lack of faith in PR before. But, then Iíd never worked for a CEO who was a former journalist as well as a former McKinsey consultant before.

And, I had to admit, Manzi was asking the right questions.

So, the first thing I did was commission some research. Actually, I didnít have enough money in my budget, so I co-commissioned some research with Bill Huff, who was under the same kind of pressure to come up with a similar answer for advertising.

We surveyed recent buyers of Lotus software and asked them what "information sources" they had used before making a purchase decision. The list of information sources was fairly long and included: Friends and co-workers, Lotus salespeople, print advertising, TV advertising, articles in trade publications, and articles in business publications.

When we presented our findings six months later, they were dismissed - because they were counter-intuitive. Articles in trade publications ranked higher than articles in business publications, print advertising ranked higher than TV advertising, and friends and co-workers ranked higher than Lotus salespeople.

Nevertheless, Manzi didnít cut my department in half - and I went on to hold my job for two years, which was a record at the time.

After I left Lotus, I went to Ziff-Davis, where I became the first Director of Corporate Communications in the companyís 64-year history. There, I was able to continue doing research on PRís impact on buying decisions. While articles in trade publications werenít among the top three information sources, they were in the top five. And they ranked ahead of articles in business publications.

I was also asked to work with the PR departments of some of our largest advertisers to measure the number of reader service (bingo) cards, the number of calls to unique 800 numbers, and the number of visits to unique URL extensions generated by articles in Ziff-Davis publications. In other words, I was learning that there was more than one way to answer Manziís questions.

In early 2003, I co-founded SEO-PR with Jamie OíDonnell, who had worked with me at Lotus. After leaving Ziff-Davis, I had become the Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of a search engine optimization firm. Meanwhile, Jamie had become the President of an online direct marketing agency. Together, we came up with yet another way to answer Manziís questions.

SEO-PR combines search engine optimization and public relations to write optimized press release that improve search engine ranking, increase web traffic, and generate sales leads as well as publicity. One of our clients, Southwest Airlines, has tracked $1.9 million in airline ticket sales to optimized press releases - not to the articles in The New York Times, Washington Post, or other media that picked up their news, but to the press releases themselves.

How did we come up with such an innovative approach to measuring PR? Well, weíve been working on it since 1986.

Greg Jarboe is the President and co-founder of SEO-PR (www.seo-pr.com). Jarboe has been called "the guru of lead tracking" by Jeffrey Tarter, a well-known industry analyst. SEO-PR has also been praised for its "best measurement practices" by Katie Delahaye Paine, CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and Gregís predecessor at Lotus.

March 8, 2005

Previous Members in the Spotlight:

Ben Shelton
Jeff Todd
John Briggs
Michelle Goguen Hurley
Ron Herardian
Ezra Gottheil
Jim Bernardo
Michael Kolowich
Kathryn Roy
Larry Roshfeld
Jeff Anderholm
John Rudolf
Betsy Kosheff
Greg Jarboe
Rob Perry
Chris Mann
Carrie Snyder Griffen
Sue Madden Moore
Tim Davenport