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Seeking ‘professionalism’ in PR lies in proving its impact

13 March 2014

A report in PR Week last week demonstrated that despite an overwhelming desire within the sector to be seen as professional, PR is “striving to be seen as a profession without entirely embracing professional standards”.

This raises some interesting questions – what do we mean by professionals and professionalism. And is PR really falling short of embracing professional standards? What are ‘professional standards’ in the context of PR?

A profession is defined as “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification” – but zooming in on training and formal qualifications is arguably a distraction, as experience and core skills are deemed to be more important to the PR sector than qualifications, and rightly so. ‘Professionalism’ on the other hand, is defined as “the competence or skill expected of a professional” and if we’re talking about the professionalism of PR as a discipline, we’re talking about the level of competence expected of PR as a discipline.

Competence: “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently”.

And here lies the challenge for many agencies or in-house communications teams – proving success. This is a professional standard we should all embrace. Another recent PR Week article talked about how we undervalue our services and I believe this is also partly rooted in PR often being seen as vague and intangible because of challenges proving return on investment. PR is certainly more complex to track and analyse audience behaviour and action than online advertising, for example, but that does not stop us from proving it is successful, effective and worth every penny.

At a time when budgets are tight and the public is increasingly holding organisations to account, as a sector we need to be able to confidently and clearly answer the boardroom question: what is the true impact of the PR I am investing in?

At Forster, we have developed an evaluation model to help us answer this question. We drew upon learnings and other tools such as the AMEC Valid Metric Framework and the Westminster Model, and created our own model that is rooted in our objective of building brands with social purpose. With this in mind, we put the audience at the heart of things and track progress at the key stages of the audience journey, looking beyond coverage circulation KPIs and pinning down what we want to change and how communications is going to help us get there.

The model is an integral part of our communications planning approach. This ensures that evaluation is not a bolt on presentation or report as our campaign or yearly activity draws to a close and instead is something that is developed hand in hand with the plan, helping to frame and track activity and demonstrate how communications is supporting wider strategic objectives and organisational goals.

PR can increasingly be seen as a professional discipline, but only if it can prove the genuine impact it has on supporting an organisation’s overarching ambitions.