DISCLAIMER: We going to get a bit geeky this week, so prepare to mull.
Establishing value-driven measurement is an integral step in cementing PR’s seat at the table. But what about other catalysts (beyond metrics) that can used in rational, strategic decision making?
Below is a write up done by our stellar summer intern, Harry Rackmil. Harry brought a numerous insightful contributions to AirPR, one of which was his application of Game Theory to PR.
Besides being a fascinating read, Harry also cooked up some nifty visuals to illustrate the model’s important conclusions. Your head might spin a little during your first read, but that’s just your brain thanking you for seeking yet another angle that proves the value of PR. Enjoy!
Public Relations and Game Theory seem to have little in common, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pair nicely.
Game theory, to paraphrase Wikipedia, is the study of strategic decision making by rational, intelligent agents. It’s easy to see how this could apply to Public Relations – every decision in a PR campaign, from which messages to pitch to which journalists to target, is a carefully considered choice, influenced in part by the strategic choices of the competition’s rational.
But then again, “strategic decision making by rational, intelligent agents” is vague enough to cover just about everything. This is intentional – it means practically any strategic decision can be tweaked into a game modelled by a mathematical game theoretical framework with a few well-placed assumptions. But it also means some important details will have to be glossed over – John Nash never incorporated the influence of the blogosphere into his equilibrium calculations.
With a few simplifying assumptions we can apply game theory to a common situation in PR and explain why increasing PR investment might not increase sales, but not investing in PR at all will cause even more damage.
How PR relates to “competitive advantage.”
Let’s look at a very specific case when two competitors are vying for the same fixed pool of customers. This is certainly not the only PR hypothetical – it is often employed to bring in new customers, coax current customers into spending more, or simply prevent unforeseeable press disasters.
Think of a presidential election – television ads are airing constantly so almost everyone knows the candidates’ names (high brand awareness), but these ads weren’t convincing enough and a number of swing voters still haven’t decided. If nothing further is done, approximately half should vote for each candidate just by random chance. But if one candidate’s PR team gets an article published making a convincing appeal to these voters and the other candidate is silent, the first candidate could get all of their votes.
Now if the second candidate’s PR team gets a second, equally effective article published favoring their candidate, the decision isn’t so straightforward and the split is back to 50/50. So both candidates have spent a lot of money on PR and they’re no better off than if they’d never hired PR pros in the first place.
So if this is the outcome, why invest in PR at all?