ITL #267 - The length of a crocodile: overcoming difficulties in measurement and evaluation

2 years, 3 months ago


Tools for measuring the impact and effectiveness of PR activity are imperfect. However, a clearer picture can be achieved by combining commonsense with bravery. By Alexander Christov.

It seems to be extremely surprising when we, as PR professionals, are strict and precise when talking about communication budgets, but highly tolerant to adjustments when we prepare measurement and evaluation reports. Both activities are more or less related to mathematics, which is usually not among the most desired things to be dedicated to, but the difference in the attitude is sometimes dramatic.


This situation is actually understandable. When we think about the current status quo in measurement and evaluation in PR and in Communications as a whole, a nice metaphor comes up. The length of a crocodile can be 4 metres, if we draw a straight line from the nose to the end of the tale; and 4.5 metres, if we measure it according to the curves of its body.


Which size is more real? Most probably the first one. But which is more useful? Maybe the second one.


This illustrates the difficulties and inequalities in PR measurement that professionals usually face. Having in mind also the fact that the methodologies in this field are definitely not yet perfect, mainly because of the impossibility of extracting the contribution of PR activities in the outcome, it becomes even harder. And sometimes this drives us to make adjustments so as to have some kind of understandable, easy-to-use and comparable results.


We maybe know that those are not completely true, but they are more or less useful. And we do not have much time to go deeper; we are forced to show results to the client or to our management and that is why sometimes we comply with all those imperfections.


But covering all those difficulties with a colorful blanket does not mean that we are going to overcome them. For that reason, PR professionals have to think deeper about how to cope with them.


Facing imperfections

As a first step, it is necessary to face the imperfections and agree that they exist – maybe not loudly to the client or the management, but among us. Just after that, we shall to look for the best ways to approach them. And here are some important steps – or actually, changes in thinking – that will contribute to overcoming difficulties in measurement and evaluation.


Be honest and authentic. Before being honest about the field of measurement in PR to the client or to the management, let’s first be honest to ourselves as professionals and smart people. It is completely beyond commonsense if we say that potential audience reach is 5 million people, when the population of the country concerned is 7.5 million. There is something wrong – not in terms of calculations, but in terms of understanding and interpretation. So, let’s then implement another methodology – involving overlapping of audiences, repetition of the communication contact and others.


Ask yourself the right questions. Instead of what is the reach of the campaign, maybe it is more important to focus on the profile of the audience reach and to compare it with the target audience of the company. It is easy to count the publicity outcomes, but it is more important to see whether they are relevant to the communication messages of the company or not – in terms of content. The analysis of publicity in media and social media shall include quantitative and qualitative indicators that can provide a good picture not only regarding the numbers, but also regarding the content and opportunity to reach an audience and have an influence on them.


Do not tie everything with the goals that are set initially. No matter that a lot of professionals in the field attach importance to goal setting in communications, and that it also has a place in the Barcelona Principles, we should not rely completely on it. Why? Measuring the outcome only according to something that we wanted to achieve initially makes the process a bit distant from the reality. What if the goals set are too unrealistic? What if the market or the consumer behavior during the campaign has changed? For example, reaching 20% ‘top of mind’ awareness in the beginning was achievable, but a year after, because of all the dynamics, it might be too pessimistic. The goals are important, but common sense is even more important.


Invest in development of measurement and evaluation. Yes, the tools are not absolutely perfect in terms of measuring outcomes and business results. But we are the ones who shall improve them. We shall read more, think more and exchange more information. We need to invest at least more time, if not additional budgets, to make the system of measurement and evaluation in PR and communications work better. And it is not only about the publicity reports, social media listening and the audience reached. It is much more about having the initial data (as far as it is available) and the knowledge to interpret it so that it does not only comply with internal rules and procedures, but with the reality outside. AVEs will disappear only when we develop something that is reliable, acceptable and not too abstract to replace it in the minds of managers in terms of the relationship between investment and outcome.


It seems that we can also extend somewhat the metaphor used at the beginning. If we are not working to improve methodologies in an honest way, the results will continue for some time to be ugly as a crocodile: a beast without a real human face.


Personally, I think we know how to do this and have the right tools. But we must be braver when we implement them.

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The Author

Alexander Christov, PhD

Alexander Christov, PhD, is a communications professional and academician with 18 years’ experience in communications and PR. Currently, he is Managing Partner of Paragraph 42, preferred partner of Ketchum in Bulgaria. Prior to that, he was an Account Director in PR agency Civitas Bulgaria and held management positions in communication departments in financial institutions. He is also an associate professor in marketing communications at the University of National and World Economy, visiting lecturer in PR at New Bulgarian University, has written three books and many published articles. Alexander was Chairman of the Bulgarian Public Relations Society 2011-13 and remains on its Management Board.

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