Why having access to key financial information is essential to PR

PR as a strategic function is there to help business. It’s there to protect reputation, building relationships and effectively increase the bottom line through its work.

If we don’t have access to key financial information and data, how are we supposed to really prove the value of our work?

Financial information is essential to PR because for businesses it always comes down to money. There’s a start point and end point, always.

We all know (or at least I hope we do) that evaluation starts at the beginning, not the end. So surely we need to know the key financial information and data so we know where we started? Information such as weekly takings, annual deals, profit and loss, and linked to sales enquiries, lead generation, coming right back to how can we improve it. Then the same questions are asked at key intervals and at the end.

Other non-financial KPIs would of course be included plus we’d already know the objectives of the business, most definitely focusing on financial growth in key areas.

What problem are you trying to solve?

I’ve written before about PR and entrepreneurial thinking and if you look at a start-up, the first question they will ask if what problem are you trying to solve? I was going to write more about this but I came across Simon Collister’s post “PR needs to solve problems to stay relevant” from 2013 which covers off some really great points about start-up mentality and how PR needs to modernise more quickly. Please read both of the posts when you’ve got time.

Is PR not just about media coverage?

I’ve recently been asked, when speaking to other comms/marketing people, why I’d need to know such financial information and surely all I’m doing is evaluating media coverage. I was going to say I was shocked, but actually, I wasn’t. I was just sad that yet another person thinks PR is about getting media coverage.

Warning: brain dump coming up… I’ve merged two topics into one blog as I see both linking in this instance

I also read this article this morning, by Adam Snyder for The Drum: “The pay-for-play problem in PR“. Adam has moved over to an in-house role and now calls into question why PR is moving outwith traditional earned media territory. Some of his points are well made but if you look at the broader picture of PR, public relations is ‘public’ ‘relations’, not media relations. Public relations is about relationships with a brand’s publics. So why on earth wouldn’t we capitalise on tech to build relationships with publics where they hang out?!

Proving value

Coming back to my point about why PR needs financial information, well, if we’re proving what value we add to a business and we know the business wants to grow from X to Y in terms of turnover and profit, we need to know financials (and as I’ve mentioned before, PR skills must include finance so we know what we’re dealing with!).

If you’re talking about something a little different then let’s use a charity as an example. It’s not for profit however charities still need to bring in money to support their work. By PR telling the story of the charity and its work, it makes a compelling case for supporting the charity and if PR positions it properly, the charity will be building relationships with new supporters, current supporters, stakeholders such as funders and potentially government, plus, its internal work; engaging teams, volunteers, and the people the charity works to support (unless it’s dogs or cats or something else small and furry).

So here we are again, looking at financial information. How much money did the charity bring in and who from, or who has changed their mind and withdrawn support. How has the money been invested in projects and campaigns, to further the work the charity is doing?

PR is right in there, telling the story of a new donation, telling the story of a project, telling the story of how great it is to work at the charity and indeed, PR is there is to answer the questions on investment and annual statement to its board.

Are you starting to see my point?

Too many are fluffy and tactical and sell their services based on ‘I can write content’ and ‘let’s hold and event’. If you look at the brand or charity I mention above, linking everything back to objectives and business, the PR function cannot work effectively, proving value, without having financial information. It’s like a PR campaign to help fundraising and not looking at how much was raised at the end. What’s the point?

Getting back to my point

With technology there to help us and with insights to inform our decisions and even create new opportunities, this is absolutely where PR needs to be. I’ve always worked in media relations, never more so than when I ran a 24/4 press office for a client, with scary media enquiries coming in at 3am after a road traffic accident and a death. Media relations is STILL important and still plays a part, despite the decline in readers and importantly media trust, but if we don’t explore other ways to engage, build relationships and tell an authentic story, then our/your ‘publics’ won’t know about you, won’t talk about you, won’t buy from you, won’t support you and your competitors will definitely be stealing a march.

If you flip it on it’s head: say you get a really good piece of media coverage after you launch a fab new product. Why wouldn’t you pay to promote the link on Facebook and Instagram to your target audience?!

Nearly there…

My point is two fold.

  1. PR needs access to financial information and data to help develop a strategy, monitor and evaluate the activity
  2. Adam’s blog about PR sticking to what it’s good at and what clients expect, media relations, is simply saying PR shouldn’t maximise opportunities by engaging elsewhere

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on this. I’m thinking about doing some more specific posts around some of the areas discussed in the blog, in particular, perhaps a continuation of the entrepreneur/start-up conversation. Email me with your thoughts and if you could share via social media, I’d be really grateful. Any sharing can only be good to keep the conversation going.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think.

Image courtesy of flickr user Images Money

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Laura Sutherland

MD of Aura PR, CIPR Council member and former CIPR Board Director. Former Chair of CIPR Scotland. Fellow and Chartered PR practitioner.

Posted in Editor's Picks, Public Relations
2 comments on “Why having access to key financial information is essential to PR
  1. Philip Dewhurst FCIPR says:

    Laura, I agree that PR should have metrics in place to show how it adds value, whether delivered by in-house teams or consultancy. But what do you mean by financial information? In-house communication directors should have access to all the financial information they need and presumably consultants can refer to their clients’ report & accounts. Or do you mean segmented information about how individual business units are performing?

  2. Samantha Wilding says:

    Hi Laura – really good piece – thank you. I too am astonished that some people still view PR as purely media relations. It is about ‘publics’ as you say, and it’s about building, managing and ultimately protecting an organisation’s reputation with those ‘publics’.

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