The first question that anyone who is running a marketing budget should ask is, of course: how do we know that we are getting value for money?
This question is both more important and harder to answer in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries than in other parts of the world. It is more important, because the GCC remains one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing parts of the global economy. It is more difficult to answer because, in a region where change is so profound and fast, relevant statistical data is often hard to come by.
To their credit, the public relations community in this part of the world have attempted to address the issue by emphasising the concept of Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). For the expenditure of X dollars on a PR exercise, the client gains Y times as much coverage as would have been generated by a conventional advertising campaign.
Like all corporate clients, the international asset management companies, international life companies, private banks and other financial institutions, with whom we work, pay for commercial intelligence for three reasons. First, a sponsored research project gives them a PR opportunity. Provided that the project, and their participation, is promoted well by their PR company, the AVE can indeed be a multiple of the money that is actually spent on the research project. A sponsored research project is of interest to the media because it combines new, and hard data with a clearly enunciated message that relates to identified protagonists. From the point of view of the journalist, the story almost writes itself.
The second reason why a corporate client will undertake a sponsored research project is that the cost of outsourcing the work will usually be less than would be the case if the client tried to handle the project in-house. Of course, if the project has multiple sponsors, which are not necessarily organisations that are in direct competition with each other, the cost-efficiency of the exercise will be improved further.
Finally, of course, a sponsored research project is one way in which a corporate client can obtain data that would otherwise be totally unavailable. In some parts of the world, trade associations and government agencies make available huge amounts of data for no or little cost. The GCC is not such a region. Whether in financial services or in another sector, a corporate client in this part of the world needs to allocate a higher percentage of overall revenues to commercial intelligence. Given the opportunities for profitable growth, the money is almost always money well spent.
Furthermore, with the advance of social media, we are now able to offer significant data driven benefits to companies including the ability to listen to brand sentiment. There are tremendous opportunities to deliver insights that help organizations gain a view from beyond the fishbowl. Social media allow brands to truly understand how customers, prospects and other stakeholders actually feel about a brand, allowing companies to respond to market realities. Dubai based, Neesh The Social Experience Agency, have found that the more effort clients put into researching perceptions about their company, the more they will begin to understand what their brand really is.
The bottom line is this: well managed by its PR company, a corporate client can achieve excellent AVE by sponsoring research. Cost efficiency can be greatly enhanced through partnership with other sponsors. All these benefits are in addition to the harvesting and analysis of commercial intelligence data that is needed anyway. Commercial intelligence companies that have a clear track record in running sponsored research projects are natural allies of PR companies.