The myth of ROI – what is it? I’m sure most of us know what ROI stands for, but in case not – return on investment and it’s a phrase I hear often and it almost always makes me shudder.


It speaks to those who measure everything in terms of immediate results and that rarely works in the area of public relations. Stories, messages, brand awareness all take time to embed and attaching a value to one activity can be impossible. Also when it is tried, it doesn’t often mean much.


Expectations about ROI happen when business owners mistake PR for sales – two distinct but aligned disciplines. Marketing teams should work alongside sales which is often called ‘business development’ today, to try to fudge the word ‘sales’ and make it more acceptable and modern. Don’t be fooled it is about sales – hopefully though it’s also about marketing to achieve visibility, opportunity and then sales down the line.


A famous phrase, articulated over 100 years ago is: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’ This quote is by a famous US merchant and the forefather of marketing, John Wanamaker. So the ‘black art’ of marketing and PR has been around for a long long time in business.


For many companies this is still the same, and the competition out there has only increased.


­Compared to several decades ago, the average person is exposed to over 5,000 marketing messages a day, when previously it would only have been 500. How on earth can you work out which messages are going to be the ones seen by people?


Marketing has always been a world of ‘murk’ for many, yet it’s not like that at all. While the publicity part of ‘PR’ is often questioned, the truth is that it’s very hard to measure the impact of any marketing activity. Unless you stop all of it and see what happens.


After all who talks about the ROI of their website, their signage on their office, their branded t-shirts, their branded vans?


I believe the only real test is to stop. Stop all of it and see what happens. Too nervous to do that? Why?


Removing marketing would mean doing no publicity, no social media, no blogging, no website, no branded vans, no research, no prospecting, no branded office, no trade shows, no networking! You would just sit in an office with a phone and see what happens, purely relying on who you know and who knows you at that time and that’s it.


It takes time, budget and patience to build your presence, and gain the brand or personal visibility you want – it doesn’t happen overnight for anyone – even if it appears so. Even the most famous celebrities would have been pushing on doors for years before they get a ‘big break’.


You also have to be willing to grasp opportunities when they are offered, not go for them when it suits you. ‘Build It And They Will Come’ is a lie, you have to tell them you’ve built it again, again, again and again.


In the past I have worked with people who after a few months complain that they haven’t had the coverage they expected, or they haven’t had the coverage they expected – even though I’ve been really clear about what happens. This doesn’t happen now to me as I don’t work with anyone like that – I work with clients who get it and want the ‘it’ done well.


These days, I no longer have conversations about the ROI on publicity and the media as I’ve worked hard to align myself with the right people and if those questions come up early doors, I’ll probably tell that person that it’s not right for them.


I’ll do that because I know that the business owners who don’t understand how PR works – or have set ideas of how it works will also have wildly unrealistic expectations. I’ll often direct them to my training. After all we don’t know what we don’t know.