Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PR ROI revisited, not yet resolved

Professors Tom Watson of Bournemouth University and Ansgar Zerfass of the University of Leipzig have published in PRism the results of their study of how public relations practitioners understand and apply the term ROI / return on investment to public relations in the U.K. and Europe. The article, "Return on investment in public relations: A critique of concepts used by practitioners from communication and management sciences perspectives," provides a useful overview and literature review on the topic. But it also clearly demonstrates how far we are from applying the ROI concept in a meaningful way. There still is no consistent rigorous use of the term that an accountant, lawyer, or securities analyst could live with. As PR people continue to use the ROI language without definition, we only continue to look like we're just believing our own BS and not providing our clients and peers with a meaningful or transparent descriptive methodology. The Council of PR Firms has a task force grappling with the topic of ROI of public relations, and I hope we resolve some issues in the report we expect to issue later this year.