PR Audit: A Critical Path to Measuring Success

PR Audit: Measuring for Success

How effective is your PR program? Is your brand reaching the right audience? Is your message resonating? Organizations might understand the importance of measuring their overall share of voice but many fail to audit their PR efforts due to lack of understanding of what the anatomy of an audit should look like. If you’re investing in PR efforts, PR pros need to understand the key elements needed to be as effective as possible in assessing their efforts and creating a powerful PR strategy. I chose this topic because it’s near and dear to my heart. Having managed global agencies for the past 10 years, I’ve come to understand why auditing is a must – not only to demonstrate the power of PR but to understand the gaps that exist so you can align your communication strategy with your organizational strategy. You can’t improve or strengthen your efforts without having visibility into the disconnects. Today, with the vast amount of automated tools out there, it’s important for PR pros to understand the difference between what these tools can do and doing a real assessment that demonstrates true share of voice in the market.

While researching this topic, I found an interesting tidbit in a recent in a blog by Katie Paine’s (@KDPaine)  The Measurement Standard. In the blog, she sites a paper written by measurement maven Louis C. Williams  titled, “Framing Communications Audits to Create Positive Outcomes for Organizations,” by Louis C. Williams. He states: “Few public relations techniques are as mysterious as communication audits. Although the use of them is fairly well known in the industry, seldom has any research been done to determine their ultimate (or, even, their preliminary) value to an organization. Yet organizations continue to spend many dollars on them, hoping they will improve the way communication is conducted within and for the organization.”

Today, the value lies in developing a more sophisticated approach and understanding how an audit might benefit your organization’s strategy, timing, methodology and value expectations. This means aligning your PR goals with organizational objectives. By adopting a consistent auditing process, companies can achieve true visibility into whether their PR efforts are paying off and how they need to adjust. To gain better insight into this process, I turned to my colleague and friend Linda Vandevrede, president and founder of VandeVrede Public Relations, LLC, contributing blogger for Valley PR Blog and PR sensation based in Phoenix.

According to Linda, the purpose of an audit is to take an evaluation of the current public relations process and determine how that maps against the company’s objectives. It will tell you if you’re using the correct strategies and vehicles to reach your goals. She states that the process of an audit is useful because it may unearth issues with something as basic as your messages, and you may decide that you need to tweak your messages rather than your vehicles.  You may even discover that something as simple as your product nomenclature is confusing reporters and customers. It is a valuable tool for unearthing the disconnects that may exist in your PR program.

  • Social media monitoring and PR tools are a dime a dozen. How should organizations approach a PR audit?

The ideal audit includes the face-to-face and/or phone interviews in order to obtain qualitative insights, and the use of social media monitoring tools for quantitative data.

  • Is PR auditing right for every organization? Why is PR auditing important to an organization when you can simply measure impressions from a monitoring tool?

The problem with a monitoring tool is that you can’t always dig down into the whys and wherefores of a particular impression. To supplement automated tools, it’s useful to have conversations in real time with the various audience segments to better understand how they are thinking, as well as to probe for deeper insights. Any company can benefit from a PR audit, regardless of its industry. Particularly in this age of PR 2.0 and conversations, it’s important to understand what people think about you and what is being said about you.

  • How does a PR audit affect your organization’s share of voice in the market?

I have found that many companies think they know what their share of voice is, and what their key messages are, only to learn from the audit that the perceptions are very different. Having a complete PR audit with a written analysis helps you implement customized strategies and tactics knowing that they are based on sound, hard data and not just a gut feeling.  It helps management budget dollars where they are most needed and most effective.

  • Let’s break it down – what are the key steps, or checklist items, to obtain a comprehensive PR audit?

Here is a loose set of steps for a comprehensive PR audit:

    1. Buy-in from management, so they understand why it is being conducted
    2. A personal tour of the company or facilities to get a feel for the “culture”
    3. Compilation of all the various PR materials, including Web and hardcopy, any and all clippings, summary of events that have occurred to date such as open houses, etc.
    4. Formal facilitation meeting conducted with key personnel – these usually take a half-day to a whole day, and review key questions from corporate goals to competitive positioning.
    5. Separate select phone interviews with subject matter experts from the company and related personnel, and influencers (media, customers) for 360-degree feedback.   The influencers’ feedback must be anonymous, i.e. any publication of their comments must not be attributed to the original source when included in the final analysis.
    6. Written analysis based on the formal audit, interviews and review materials, with recommended strategies going forward.   The time elapsed between #1 and #6 usually ranges from 6-8 weeks, depending on how responsive the customers and media are to requests for interviews.
    7. Formal presentation of the results, with follow-up meetings if needed.
  • How can organizations make their PR audit results actionable and make it mean something?

This is often the weakest point of an audit. One team for whom I did an audit wanted to hire me to ensure they had someone to execute on the plan. This is where it really relies on the in-house PR point of contact to ensure upfront that management understands the reason for the audit, and understands that there will be follow-up activities. That point of contact needs to converse frequently with management and update them on the before and after scenarios to prove the value of the audit. Sometimes it helps to bring back in the professional who conducted the audit as an outside force to facilitate.

  • How often should you do a PR audit? Should you outsource or do it in-house?

Audits are helpful every few years, or when there is a major change in an organization, such as a merger or acquisition. They can be performed successfully in-house, but the value of bringing in an outside person or agency is that you then free up the PR contacts to focus on their core responsibilities, as audits are time-consuming. By using an outside person, you also ensure that no one thinks the PR contact has an ax to grind, and many of the target audiences, such as bloggers, customers and reporters, are able to speak more freely and honestly with an outside contact.  They will paint situations and opinions in much more glowing terms when speaking to a company representative.

Other Resources:

Convince and Convert: 4 Ways to Increase Share of Voice

PRSA: Best Practices for PR Measurement in a Difficult Economy

For more information on PR auditing, you can contact Linda at


Social Media: People vs. Technology

Social Media: It's The People Not The Technology


 In a recent blog post by Bloggertone, Frank Bradley brings up an interesting but often missed point – social media is not about the technology but the people. It’s about creating meaningful dialogue with your target audience. To be successful in your social media strategy and planning, you have to employ the right people leading the effort and dictating which social networking channels are appropriate for your business and its target audience. We often mistake social media as a “must” for any business to succeed in today’s fast-changing Web 2.0, when we first need to understand what the company wants to achieve before jumping in.    

The year 2010 is being dubbed the “The Year of the Social Media Crisis,” according to Breakthrough Communications. This means companies cannot take a blind approach to social media by implementing any and all technologies that are deemed hot without first understanding the fundamental rules, which I’ll go into later. This type of ad-hoc approach can backfire, placing your company on the leader board for social media crisis help. Take, for example, Nestle. In mid-March Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle, one of the largest nutrition, health and wellness companies, criticizing Nestle for using palm oil companies that allegedly destroy Indonesian rainforest and threat Orangutan habitat. Nestle responded that they stopped using palm oil in their products. However, when the Greenpeace folks launched negative comments on Nestle’s Facebook wall, the moderator of the company’s page responded:    

“To repeat: we welcome your comments but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”    

This is the kind of fire your company can face if you don’t have the right people managing social media. The people who are managing social media – the conversations – should be passionate and aware, but more importantly understand how these platforms work.    

They should understand how to create and build dialogue outside of their standard company policy mumbo jumbo. In today’s world where information can be disseminated within seconds across Internet chat rooms, blogs and social channels, companies no longer have the luxury of communicating the way they used to – going through legal channels and putting out a statement. This is the type of mistake you can run into without the right people behind it. It’s about conversation, and this takes the right people using the right tools. It’s a balancing act. With that said, I want to take you through a series of very high-level steps which are also referenced in Altimeter’s recent webinar slides:    

Research is pivotal. According to Altimeter, researching your customer profiles will provide some good visibility into where your target audience is online, their social behaviors, what social information or people do your customers rely on, how they’re using various channels, and how they’re being influenced in their buying decisions. More importantly, you should understand how they are using social technologies in the context of your products. You can do this by launching a social computing survey – no more than 15 questions. For more information and guidance, take a look at Groundswell by Charlene Li, founder of the Altimeter Group. This book provides a specific list of questions you should be asking. For instance, which social technologies do they currently use, for what, how long, how often, etc.    


With strong research as the foundation, companies should do their own social audit. This is essentially an internal social computing survey to gauge what social networking sites your employees are accessing, how long, for what, how often, etc.  Further, invite key leaders from marketing, product management, the executive team and solution marketing for a meeting (Altimeter suggests a brown-bag meeting, which is not a bad idea) to discuss their experiences with social media and begin to identify key internal experts, which leads me to my next point: Who?    


Social media typically resides in corporate communications or marketing. But, forget where it should belong because every organization is unique. Large organizations will typically allow everyone to socially engage, but my belief is that social media engagement, management and monitoring should be owned by a central point of contact where all information is filtered. You’ve identified the key internal experts, but you have to allocate management of your social media efforts – strategy and planning. People who understand the essence of social media, not because they use it for personal use, but because they understand the business objectives and goals as well as how these social media channels will be utilized to fundamentally help achieve the end goal.    

I’d recommend a communications expert who understands not only the corporate side of business such as processes, crisis planning, etc., but how online community members behave, connect, engage, etc. Remember, you have different target audiences, and they all do things differently – media, analysts, bloggers, users, etc. The social media expert must understand the different personas your company is targeting and how to engage on all different levels. He or she should be passionate about your brand, products and services, but also the relationship management process.    


Now that you have your external and internal research finalized and the right people behind this process, it’s time to define your strategy and determine where you’re going to invest your time and resources. By identifying your key objectives you can align those goals with the right social networking tools. The research allows you to gain strong visibility of your brand discussions online and should give you good guidance on where and why you should partake in social media. For instance, if a majority of your target audience is using communities and blogs to engage and make buying decisions, you would want to build a community to engage with your customers and foster an environment of co-innovation and deeper engagement.      

Whatever your strategy is – the first and foremost priority is the people. And if you have the right people dedicated to cultivating this environment and fostering engagement on a consistent basis, you’ll be on the road to success.    

Road to success starts and ends with a coordinated, integrated approach to social media strategy and execution to stay organized and metrics driven.

Win the Crowd and You’ll Win Your Dream Client

Marketing and PR is a tough market to be in, especially for full-service agencies. What’s more, the introduction of the social Web has thrown a wrench into the overall mix of the complicated world of agency life. The upside is more companies are outsourcing PR, advertising, marketing, copywriting, etc. due to internal budgetary restraints. According to The Black Book of Outsourcing report compiled by Brown-Wilson Group, outsourcing is forecast to pass the $3.5 billion mark in 2012, representing a 41 percent compound annual growth rate from $700 million in 2008 (via BtoB Marketing article by Debra Andrews). While this may be good news, it’s bad news for agencies that don’t get it. Over the course of the last eight years, I’ve interviewed dozens of agencies, from boutique, best-of-breed firms to large global firms, and have witnessed various approaches to trying to win over our account — from painful, cookie-cutter pitches to the best, most well-prepared presentations.

While an agency’s instinct is to be competitive, many fall short by not doing their due diligence and demonstrating value throughout the sales process. I want to provide a client-side perspective on key ways to win clients over. In the end, when you win the crowd (think: good PR), you’ll most likely win the client.

Get the Upper Hand on Your Client’s Business

Great news! You’ve received a call that a company wants to talk to your agency. But this is just the beginning. The first impression is everything — don’t overlook it. Rather than getting on the phone the first chance you get, gather your thoughts and have a game plan. This means the following:

  • Understand who the client is, what the company does, what markets it serves, etc. This will give you some guidance for your first phone conversation.
  • Send a nice note to the client when setting up your initial conversation, and send along information about your company, your success stories, a list of your clients in the same industry (to show you are more than equipped to bring expertise and knowledge of that industry to the table), and a list of questions that you would like to discuss during the call. This will give the client an understanding of how the initial call will be structured.
  • Research the client’s share of voice so you can provide some insight during your introductory call and demonstrate your willingness to do your homework.
  • Research their competitors – find out how they fare against the client’s current place in the market in terms of share of voice (I’ll dive into this a bit later).

Your Keys to the Kingdom

Your keys to the kingdom may lie in your comprehensive groundwork. The initial call should be used to make the introduction and showcase your agency and what sets you apart, but more importantly, to understand the client’s key objectives. What key attributes are they looking for in an agency, why did the last one fail, how is PR perceived and prioritized within the organization, what kind of value-add are they looking for, and how are they planning to support the PR efforts?

What does the client want in terms of support from an agency — drive thought leadership, raise brand awareness, provide analyst support, messaging, blogging? This will help you understand their perception of PR and whether it aligns with yours. Competitive intelligence is also key. Understanding who their competitors are is crucial to developing a magnetic plan that will win the crowd over.

It’s Show Time

After several phone conversations, now it’s time to fly your team to your client’s headquarters for the show of your life. Don’t go into it blind because you’ve had some good conversations over the phone with the person leading the search. Find out who will be there and who the decision makers are. This will give your team a chance to do some digging and background work on the key people who are going to be present at your face-to-face meeting. I’ve learned that it helps to make friends with the primary contact because he or she will be instrumental in guiding you throughout the process — telling you what to expect, who the players are, what to watch out for, and possibly even helping you structure your presentation to meet everyone’s needs.

This was the case with Lois Paul and Partners. Carol Hanko, now SVP at LP&P, established a strong relationship with me during the process and leveraged my knowledge and position to walk through the presentation before we had the face-to-face meeting. Great move! Now it’s show time. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Come dressed to impress – Even though the organization might be flexible and casual, this doesn’t mean you should imitate that. Dress in your best business attire and show your client that you mean business.
  • Show up early – Technology glitches can be nerve-wracking. By getting there early, you can set up and get comfortable, make your round of introductions, and have your team ready when the client’s team arrives in the boardroom.
  • Put your best foot or person forward – I highly recommend your VP on the account present, but segment the key areas to showcase the team’s skills rather than having one person talk the whole time. This instills confidence and trust. Why? It’s more than likely that your VP will not always be there, so having a well-balanced team helps a great deal.

Energize Your Clients

So you’ve done the whole song and dance at the face-to-face meeting. What comes next may be the make-or-break opportunity. You should always follow up with a nice note to each member who attended the presentation. 

  • Call your main contact and find out what he or she thought of the presentation. This will give you an opportunity to address any reservations.
  • Act like you’ve already won the account. You and your team should be looking at opportunities that might be a good fit and flagging them for your client. This means blogs, speaking, awards, media, analysts and social media. This shows leadership and true passion for the client.
  • Maintain top-of-mind awareness. When you continually maintain the flow of information, contact and follow-up, your client will see this as a key differentiator. I know I did.

Walk the Walk

One-dimensional agencies will not succeed. If you think PR is about media pitching or sending out press releases, you’re dead wrong! Today, PR agencies must make a shift and adopt new channels to deliver more value to their clients. And if you can’t walk the walk, it’ll show. To set yourself apart from the competition, you have to demonstrate why you’re the leading-edge agency. This means having an established presence in social media, powerful social website, blog, success stories, multi-media, interactive pressroom, etc. Being the leader in terms of new trends and technologies can be important in guiding clients to a successful PR strategy.

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please share. I would love to hear from you.

Social Media Outsourcing: Good Business or Fake Dialogue?


“Brands are the stories that unite us all in a common purpose within an enterprise, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. These brand stories give meaning to who we are and what we do.” – Mark Thomson

Social media outsourcing has been dubbed the next big thing — which could mean placing your brand in the trusted hands of outside agencies. Social media is about building relationships between your brand and your community — about listening to the conversation and engaging in it. As agencies are claiming to be social media experts, more companies are taking what I believe to be an easy route by outsourcing this function. But how well can they truly represent your brand? And more importantly, can they do it better than you can?

I challenged my esteemed colleague @AmandaVega (her blog Http:// and newcomer @mkarre to a throwdown on the topic of whether companies are better off outsourcing social media. Not surprisingly, @AmandaVega and @mkarre argued that outsourcing is the way to go. Why? Budgetary constraints, lack of resources and lack of social media knowledge. @AmandaVega states: “While most companies are really good at PUSHING messages, they aren’t very good at receiving them, or interacting in conversations that fall outside of the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality. That’s another reason to assign this part of your marketing to the outside.” 

My take is this: Social media is about a conversation that can deepen engagement. By outsourcing social media, companies are diluting the message, the authenticity and the value they can deliver through direct engagement. There are a lot of agencies that do social media, and those that do it well can add value in helping you define a strategy on best practices. The role of an agency should be to provide guidance — not to directly engage for you. You know your brand, customers and community better than anyone else. As some politicians and celebs have learned the hard way, having someone else tweeting for you — even a trusted staffer — can lead to embarrassing gaffes.

Launching a social media effort requires laying a foundation and understanding which technologies are right for your businesses. Before agreeing to outsource social media, companies need to first understand what it is, why they want to do it, what their core strategic goal is and the strategy around it. When Lumension was looking to expand its presence online through social media, my team and I studied every aspect of social media to better understand what tools would be right for us — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, vimeo, YouTube, etc. We took it upon ourselves to master this arena. After we comprehensively understood WHY we wanted to do social media, we brought in our existing PR firm, Lois Paul and Partners, to get SVP of Social Media Ted Weismann involved so he could provide the skinny on how it works, existing frameworks, best practices, etc. to establish a clear social media strategy. (Note: When searching for a PR firm, we made it a priority to select a firm that understood this changing landscape so we could not only establish a strong social media presence but also incorporate it into every aspect of our marketing and PR). For us — and I’m sure a lot of companies can relate — social media is about humanizing your brand and engaging with analysts, media, business community, users/customers and prospects.

My recommendation is to appoint a staff member in-house to oversee the social media function in terms of defining and owning social media strategy, policies, brand management, engagement, education, messaging and monitoring. This person (should they work with an outside agency or counsel) should play a leading role in integrating these agencies into the fold to help lay the groundwork, identify trends and ensure your strategy and execution are on brand/message.

If you are going to outsource, consider these tips before selecting an agency:

  • Find out what the agency’s basic social media strategy is.
  • Learn the why they use social media
  • Look at their success stories — how do they use social media to deepen brand engagement
  • Talk to their customers.
  • Research the agency on social media channels to see how they are using it.
  • Talk to social media experts and what the agency’s reputation is.
  • Read their blog if they have one (and they should) to see if they are driving the conversation

Twitter responses:

From @ScribeDevil @CindyKimPR In-house if possible. No one knows your voice better than you, and authenticity is more important than that pro-style shine.

From @Esnelz @CindyKimPR in your case, you probably don’t need much help, most need to outsource

From @mikesunx @CindyKimPR i think social media is not different than real life, some cos care about customers some dont all, same for PR and social media

From @srsaul04 @CindyKimPR great to see agencies like @LPP_PR give guidance on social media, but important for companies to engage/influence directly.

Let me know what you think. Is outsourcing the next big thing? And does outsourcing dilute the brand experience and authenticity of the corporate voice? Join Social Media Debate Community.

Social Media: Balancing Security & Authenticity w/o Controlling the Message

Social media is all the rage. According to a recent report, 94 percent of Generation Y has joined a social networking site. Social media is believed to be leading the next social revolution. In fact, social networking has grown so dramatically that it is now the number one activity on the Web. In response to this social media phenomenon, businesses are moving at a rapid pace to take advantage of the untapped opportunity by making social media an integral part of their business strategy. 

On the flip side, the rise in this trend is giving hackers more motivation and greater opportunities to use the Web as the new threat vector.

Recently, I spoke in front of Women in Technology International group with my colleague, Chris Hewitt. I wanted to focus on three key areas:

  • How social media is forcing business strategy shift?
  • Why social media poses huge opportunity and RISK for the corporate world?
  • Why businesses should adopt processes and policies to maintain and educate on security best practices without controlling the authenticity of the message and voice?

This presentation will highlight how businesses can put security front and center to protect brand and customer confidence while learning to let go of control and reach their audiences through the open dialog of social media.