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 we’d received, walked down the hall to CEO Jim Manzi’s office,
and casually dropped it on his desk. Manzi took a quick look and said, "Jarboe, if I
could deposit these in a bank, I’d know what they were worth. But, until you can measure
the impact of PR in cold, hard cash, don’t waste my time with these so-called reports."
Then, he added, "I know how much money I’d save if I laid off half of the people in your
department (of 24). I just don’t know what impact it would have on sales. So, you’ve
got six months to figure it out."
While I’d worked in high tech public relations at Wang Laboratories, Stratus Computer,
and Data General for five years before joining Lotus, I’d never encountered this lack
of faith in PR before. But, then I’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 company’s 64-year history. There, I was able to continue doing
research on PR’s impact on buying decisions. While articles in trade publications weren’t
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 Manzi’s questions.
In early 2003, I co-founded SEO-PR with Jamie O’Donnell, 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 Manzi’s 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, we’ve
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 Greg’s predecessor at Lotus.
March 8, 2005