ITL #327 Measurement: the PR profession’s blind spot

1 year, 10 months ago


PR is yet to properly get to grips with measurement and evaluation, even though it is arguably the most pressing challenge the profession faces. By Jon Meakin.

The public relations profession has a blind spot. And it’s a serious one. One that I believe is not only keeping PR budgets small, but is also preventing our profession from being properly valued for the contribution we make.

It’s not new, either. It’s certainly been around for as long as I’ve been in PR, which is almost 30 years, and probably longer.

That blind spot is measurement.

For some reason, the public relations profession has, for the most part, failed to get to grips with measurement and evaluation.

This is particularly baffling, since we’ve been so good at adapting to change in so many other areas. When I started my agency career, media relations was the start and end of what PR was all about. But in the intervening years, we’ve seen a massive expansion of the PR practitioner’s toolkit, with the rise of social media and the need for us to become multimedia content producers. And on the whole we’ve adapted pretty well to every new challenge that technology and society have thrown our way.

But we still haven’t got to grips with measurement and evaluation – even though it is arguably the most pressing challenge our profession faces.

Think about it: If we can’t prove the value of PR, the value of what we do, then what we do will never be valued. Budgets will never increase, and PR will forever remain the poor relation of the marketing mix.

Why is it that, with a few exceptions, our profession has fallen short in this important area? There are probably dozens of reasons, but here are my top five: 

  1. History: Many clients wedded to, or even incentivized by, out-of-date models, such as Advertising Value Equivalents. I’m not going to repeat all the reasons why AVEs make no sense, since AMEC did this so comprehensively with its “Say No to AVEs” campaign a couple of years ago. But it is certainly true that practices set a long time ago are still being followed, despite being discredited.


  1. Silos: The data we need to measure effectively usually exists in silos, in parts of the client organisation that are outside of the dominion of the PR function. And access to that data can be challenging for our day-to-day clients, let alone their agencies. So it remains in those silos.


  1. Skills: For the most part, PR people are not natural data analysts, so there is a fear factor. We are mostly words and pictures people, not numbers people, creative not analytical. Number-crunching scares us. And we recruit in our own image, so that is perpetuated.


  1. Budgets: Despite clients placing more emphasis on measurement and evaluation, they rarely ring fence budget for it. And most agencies are (understandably) reluctant to sacrifice fee to put budget against evaluation. So measurement becomes an after-thought. Small wonder, then, that it is not done well.


  1. Confusion: There is a lot of confusion over terminology – a blurring of the lines between measurement, evaluation and reporting, which are all very different things, but which get lumped together and used interchangeably.

If you talk to people across our profession, you will find a common acknowledgement that what we are doing when it comes to measurement and evaluation is generally sub-standard, but that with all these and other obstacles, making the necessary change is just too hard.

The potential rewards for getting this right, though, are great: Better, more effective campaigns; bigger budgets and more resources; awards (if you care about that sort of thing); kudos, credibility, recognition. And an increased appreciation of the PR discipline.

So how do we, as a profession, overcome those obstacles and claim those rewards? I think it boils down to three things:

  1. Stop what you are doing. If you are tied to old practices, for historical or any other reason, it’s time to draw a line. Time to say “that’s what we used to do, but now we are going to do something different, something better”. This in itself is not easy, but it is an essential first step.


  1. Learn from others. I am firmly of the belief that despite the competitive tendencies of agency folk, when it comes to measurement and evaluation, there is more that unites us than divides us. And we should talk about those common challenges, and learn from each other. Yes, some agencies have their “secret sauce” that they want to protect, and that’s fine. But most of the challenges we face are common to all of us: How do you persuade clients to invest in measurement and evaluation? How do you bring about a change of culture within an agency, to embrace the value and importance of robust measurement and evaluation? How do you measure effectively for clients on a shoestring budget? The list goes on… And this is the basis for the AMEC ‘Common Ground’ initiative, launched at the AMEC Summit in Prague recently, which seeks to encourage dialogue between agencies, to share experience and knowledge in a non-competitive environment. Incidentally, AMEC is a great starting point for anyone looking for best practice. I make no secret of the fact that the methodology we are rolling out throughout Grayling and our client base, is simply our version of AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework. That’s what it’s there for!


  1. Acknowledge it’s a journey. For those still employing old-fashioned practices, and wishing to move beyond simple output metrics, looking at best practice can be a bit daunting. But the important thing is not to be deterred. AMEC’s Measurement Maturity Mapper is another free resource that enables you to benchmark where you are on the ‘evaluation journey’ against thousands of other organizations. Take the simple questionnaire and you’ll probably find you’re in good company, and not as far behind as you might think. Like every journey, it’s a question of taking one step at a time.

With these simple steps – ceasing outdated methodologies, learning from and sharing with our peers, and being practical and pragmatic about it – we have the opportunity to eradicate PR’s blind spot, and so improve the standing of our entire profession.


Jon Meakin, Global Head of Strategic Services, Grayling is also chair of the AMEC Agency Group. If you would like to get involved in the AMEC Agency Group’ s Common Ground initiative, please email Jon or AMEC managing director, Johna Burke.   


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The Author

Jon Meakin

, Global Head of Strategic Services, Grayling is also chair of the AMEC Agency Group. If you would like to get involved in the AMEC Agency Group’ s Common Ground initiative, please email Jon or AMEC managing director, Johna Burke.

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