PR’s intangible value

Communicators rightly strive to develop better measurement systems to demonstrate the value of public relations, but not every aspect of public relations is measurable.

We know that BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s infamous “I’d like my life back” comment is part of a litany of poor communications judgment apparent throughout the Gulf Oil spill crisis. “BP’s failures on the Gulf made worse by PR woes” does a great job of detailing the many blunders.

Yet we’ll really never know how much that quote and other infamous comments have contributed to the massive decline in BP’s stock value. Certainly, it would have been worth a lot if Hayward would have expressed more empathy for Gulf Coast residents and urgency in dealing with the spill from the beginning.

Every day, communicators advise their clients about what to do and what not to do in the public square and within their own companies. It’s impossible to measure the impact of good communications counsel that prevented a crisis from getting worse or averted potentially reputation-damaging actions or words.

I applaud initiatives such as the “Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles” recently struck at the second European Summit on Measurement in Barcelona. Solid research and benchmarking have underpinned the success of many communications programs I have led or participated in throughout my career.

Still, it’s also critical that communicators continue to use their instincts, strategic mindset and creativity to add value – even if those assets aren’t completely quantifiable.