Wednesday 12 September 2018, Bristol

September was back to school month. And for PM Forum South West members it was a chance to get educated on how marketers can demonstrate return on investment (ROI) for their activity. Our “classroom” was provided by VWV in Narrow Quay House, and our teachers were Liz Whittaker of theGrogroup and Karen Millett, senior marketing manager at VWV.

Liz shared her advice and professional experience, much of which will feature in her forthcoming book The Power of Personal: How to connect, convince and create exceptional client relationships.

She split her insight of how demonstrating ROI will help you achieve your goals, into what you can do at a business level and a personal level. Karen provided real-life case studies from VWV. Much of these are not for public disclosure, but listening to them was a benefit of attending this talk in person.

So what are the common problems here?
Liz described some of the common problems she finds when called in by senior management.

They often don’t know what marketing department does let alone know how to work with them.

Meanwhile, for the over-stretched team, there are too many bosses with conflicting demands. This means that marketers are spread too thinly and don’t feel they can do a proper job for anyone. They work within a hierarchy where people mostly do as they are told. And those higher up the chain don’t always listen to professional advice provided by marketing. They are often not incentivised to do so and essentially talk in a different language to marketers. (The trick is that learning to speak ROI gives you a common language. More on that below).

Ultimately for the marketer, it becomes easier to give in. This leads to frustration and exhaustion and eventually you just move on and the cycle continues.

Where to start with ROI
There is only one place you can start. And that is to get some clear goals. If you do not have this, it is impossible to demonstrate ROI. And it is the marketer’s responsibility to manage this conversation in the firm, even if the partner tries to steer it. Set the agenda, prepare your key questions. Understand their business goals and personal goals. Make sure you and they understand the costs of what is being proposed and how that cost is going to be returned with new work.

A common language
Liz described the significant success she’d had by helping marketing professionals find that common language with the fee earners. She framed the linguistics in three stages:

1. Output – What you are actually doing: events, email campaigns, adverts.
2. Outcomes – What these cause to happen: attendees, web hits, click throughs.
3. Impact – The benefits to the business: new meetings, new clients, fee income growth.

You might be able to see what’s coming next. It can be a natural habit for marketers to be talking at stage one. After all, the output is what you spend your life doing. But it is stages two and particularly three that fee earners are interested in.

So a hugely beneficial habit that marketers can do for themselves, their departments and their businesses is start talking in the language of stages two and three - outcome and impact. And you should start before your marketing project begins. Define your performance measure using the language of impact: What is the benefit to the business? How does this develop our brand?

Insight from VWV
At this point, Karen provided us a deep insight into how her marketing team at VWV operate: engaging with the rest of the business, drilling into the performance of every page of the website, liaising regularly with marketing suppliers making heavy use of data. She also gave a rundown of their extensive comms strategy and a case study of how she makes LinkedIn work for the firm.

Utilising underused assets
Liz moved on to share some stories of firms not tapping into resources they have available: the firm (concerned about where they would find new clients) which had no idea that approximately 700 unique visitors were landing on a key section of their website each month. The partner who wanted an introduction to a key prospect and had never considered that he was a second degree connection on LinkedIn. Both simple things to act upon and subsequently demonstrate ROI.

Insight from VWV
Karen again provided valuable insight for the room on her team’s approach to running successful events.

Cost vs income for fee earners
Liz shifted the focus to the personal impact we can make. When fee earners are employed they have to be able to demonstrate that they can earn three times what they will be paid. That is to cover their costs and contribute to profits.

When partners look at you as a marketing professional who does not generate income per se, they still look at you and put a value on you. Considering this really focuses attention on what impact you are making. Ask yourself how you are justifying your costs and contribution to the firm’s profits.

What to learn from a pride of lions?
Here followed an amusing analogy relating the senior management of a firm to a pride of lions. You had to be there to hear some of the finer points of observation, but let’s focus on the key parts to understand:
• Lions only hunt when they are hungry, and it is your job to make them hungry. One way to do this is to tell them what their competitors are doing.
• When lions work together there is one goal, one acknowledged leader and each lion plays to their strengths.
• There is complete trust in the pride and lots of social bonding, but internal competition exists. Remember, as a marketer, you are part of the pride, not the quarry!
• Some prides are more successful than others so pick your pride carefully.

Insight from VWV
Karen provided us with another case study at this point. This time she described a project in raising VWV’s profile in the Bristol media. This involved identifying spokespeople within the firm, gaining their buy-in, arranging media training and chaperoning on media engagements.

Demonstrating ROI on PR activity can be tricky, and Karen made the distinction between highlighting the personal impact on the spokespeople as well as the business impact. They managed the expectations of what the returns would be, dug deep into their own data and that of media partners, and noticed something of a rivalry between spokespeople in terms of how many “likes” they got on respective articles.

Final thoughts
The talk had been carried out at a rapid pace, with so much included. And as we drew to a close there were still many points to fit in. Liz characterised the different figures you would find in your firm: allies and adversaries, and how you should manage them.

Karen shared tips for getting partner buy-in from her own experience. These included having ideas, agreeing ROI parameters and sharing results, as well as utilising softer skills like matching marketing and partner personalities, managing expectations and gaining confidence.

Liz closed proceedings with some thoughts on how to demonstrate your own ROI. Really important is visibility. Get amongst the fee earners and bond with them, and dress appropriately. Make things as easy as possible for them. Speak in the shared language of ROI – use it all the time, including in your appraisals. And appreciate your own value!

Written by Huw Bendon, South West Regional PR
Managing Director and Founder, On Point Copywriting