MIAMI — The future of the PR industry depends on using trustworthy analytics, metrics and insights to prove the value of earned media, not only to show the impact of campaign execution, but to enable communications professionals to become strategic brand leaders.

This was the message from Golin CEO Matt Neale in his keynote address to delegates at the global AMEC measurement and evaluation summit in Miami last week.

Neale said it was time for PR to “move upstream” in being seen as a strategic growth partner for brands: “In the past, our unrivalled expertise in crisis management and issues mitigation had put the emphasis for us on the protection of those brands, that’s where we’ve always been dominant and often businesses looked to our paid media cousins to grow their brands. But we are increasingly being asked to lead in the growth of brands, too.

“Clients tell us there is a huge opportunity for us to take the lead in a modern media environment, because we know what drives conversation and engagement. We know influencer, experiential, organic social, media relations, content marketing, social commerce and community management. We understand the needs of the media, the impact of inclusion, the path through crisis, the power of influence, the purpose of purpose, the nature of community, the face of the organisation and the strength of the employees. All the things that grow modern brands, businesses, institutions and reputations are things we know better than anyone else.”

However, Neale said that for the to take full advantage of this “quiet revolution”, the industry needed to continue to change: “We’ve long evangelised the importance of brands and businesses being earned-first in their marketing and communications, now we’re going to have to encourage and help them to be earned-led, too. We need to shift our focus from measuring executional impact to establishing strategic leadership. Our future rests on the application of analytics, powered by the efficacy on earned-led thinking being the compass point for all marketing communications.”

So how can the PR industry deliver against this mission? Neale said proving the impact of earned media on sales was critical: “How is this possible when we only get sales data once in a blue moon? The AMEC measurement framework focusing on outcomes does help, but we need more. When we can demonstrate how earned leads to long term sales rather than hypothetical proxies then our conversation is elevated and earned is taken as a serious business driver.

“If the client won’t give sales data to you, there are still things we can do to prove earned media leads to sales. We have seen many examples of clear and strong correlations between earned media activity within top-tier media and influencer channels and ecommerce traffic.”

In addition, Neale said the industry needed to lead from the front by driving audience intelligence, and getting better at using technology tools to predict the future: “It’s this kind of forward-looking market intelligence that will make us the partner that our clients turn to first.”

Echoing the theme of the summit, ‘From Vanity to Value’ – he said the PR industry needed to focus on valuable data: “We can’t be taken seriously if we don’t talk seriously. Using BS metrics does not make us seem successful. Moving upstream is more about being a truth-sayer rather than a cheerleader. If we want to be trusted, we need to deliver against trustworthy metrics. The real value of measurement is not post-campaign evaluation, it’s about upstream strategic planning. Only a fraction of the data and analytics we use focuses on evaluation – the rest is used to inform and predict where markets are moving and where the opportunity lies, and that is where the value is.”

Neale also underlined the opportunity for PR and communications in terms of the declining effectiveness of advertising and paid digital: “We are facing a sea change in the media, marketing and communications industry right now. Marketers are paying record highs for advertising, to reach record low audiences: it now costs four times more in ad spend to reach the same audiences as five years ago.

“Our clients can no longer afford to build their brands with paid media alone. In an era when performance marketing technologies promise increased efficient and effectiveness, the opposite is true.”

Neale used the example of Airbnb, which recently announced its biggest earnings to date after a deliberate shift in spend from performance marketing to long-term brand building, with CEO Brian Chesky saying on his 2022 earnings call that PR was now Airbnb’s most important channel.

“The winners are those who don’t have to rely on traditional paid media forms of brand building, but instead are able to harness the power of earned media to build their profiles and reputations,” said Neale.

“Our most progressive partners tell us they need to move away from an over-dependence on paid as the primary channel, and their biggest regret is not using earned as the engine of the owned, earned, shared and paid model.”