Measure for Measure

11 years, 4 months ago


Stuart Smith provides an insightful, provocative and amusing point of view on the European Communications Monitor Survey Results (2010).

Covering 46 countries, this year’s European Communications Monitor (ECM) is, according to the lead researcher Professor Ansgar Zerfass (Leipzig University), probably the largest transnational survey of public relations ever conducted world-wide. Whilst we’ve all heard arguments for how the communications industry is evolving, and seeing it first hand in our day-to-day lives, the ECM 2010 puts some numbers into the conversation and is well worth reading.

I was going to write a considered review of the full results of the ECM but became distracted by the implications of the results in one area – measurement. If you are about to ‘click away’ and not read the rest of this article, then you have just become rather depressing proof of the assertions made below. So read on. For those of you who were going to read on anyway, you may just be the people who will save the PR industry from remaining a niche discipline (when compared with the power, influence and weight of other channels).

One stark fact: the discipline is not defending its budgets as positive investments in business success. While 72% of respondents felt that communications has become more important in the last year; 37% reported that communications fared proportionately worse than other departments in terms of resource cuts.

One of the main reasons? The industry has still not got to grips with how to measure and demonstrate success to itself, let alone budget decision makers (who for big campaign spend are CMOs).

The survey states that "communications managers in Europe still rely on monitoring clippings and media response (82.3%) and internet/intranet usage (69.7%) when evaluating their activities". However, only 25% "track the impact on financial or strategic targets".

Measured criticism

The survey is highly critical of the profession stating "...self-reporting in this much-discussed area tends to be rather optimistic, this is a strong hint that measurement practice is falling a long way behind the ideal". I think many of us would agree. The fact remains that PR is the least researched of all the marketing services disciplines. It is also the least research-led discipline. I have research to prove it. Well actually I haven’t. I cannot find much evidence of it. But that just reinforces the rightness of the following assertions.

For over twenty years I have listened to people calling for more research and insights to guide strategy, deliver PR-able content and measure effectiveness. We have seen various industry campaigns for more measurement and evaluation come and the same campaigns wither and die. Yet the sound of clients clamouring for proof, evidence or even a smoking gun is deafening (and accelerated by the recession).

There is a massive opportunity at hand. This is a tipping point (apologies) for the industry. Our discipline finally has a chance to ‘come of age’ and is clambering up to the politely-offered full seat at the integrated marketing table. And PR is doing better at this table, it has to be said.

Troubling scenario

But indulge me for a moment and imagine this scenario. At first the integrated campaign planning meeting goes deliriously well. The lead planner starts the meeting and unusually PR is allowed an early say. Yes – it’s all about conversations. Yes – it’s all about creativity. Yes – the other disciplines nod increasingly vigorously – it is all about co-creation of content.

By now the planner is in a simpering frenzy and channel-agnostic briefs are being waved so vigorously the breeze created has cooled all the skinny, double-shot lattes.

But then measurement is mentioned.

The PR person looks glumly at their slightly scuffed brogues/Milano’s [delete as appropriate] and mutters something about AVEs.

Then ROI is mentioned and sales per dollar spent.

Phrases such as ‘media mix’ and ‘marketing mix modelling’ hang in the air as a malevolent threat.

At this point the PR person is clearly stumped, feigns an urgent call from The Financial Times and mutters something about an ‘editorial roundtable’ they have been working on for ‘simply ages’.

Ok that last bit is unfair.

Loose change

What can happen, I am reliably told by people familiar with the matter, is that the creative idea brought to the table by PR will be worked up beautifully in collaboration with other sister disciplines. The client loves the holistic integrated campaign – but then the budget mix doesn’t change and PR is left with the loose change. Often because when push comes to shove PR cannot predict results that relate to sales and market share.

Our industry in the short-term is so busy congratulating itself on owning ‘conversations’ and ‘engagement’, we are at risk of blowing it completely in the long-run.

Last month I was invited to speak at AMEC’s conference (Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) in Spain to witness an impressive example of live crowd-editing of the "Barcelona Principles". Hill & Knowlton were a proud contributor to the thinking on the draft principles – as were many others. But the "Barcelona Principles" in my personal view do not go far enough and won’t solve the problem as dramatised above. Until there are better, codified solutions, AVEs will still be often used because clients need some sort of answer.

Common themes

In fact, talking with research and insights experts inside the PR industry, it’s not long before the following phrases come up:

"Ad agencies currently lay total claim to all of these outcomes, but why should they when PR drives these results too."

"Social media is not ‘more measurable’, it’s just easier and cheaper to measure. Current measurement techniques are still not showing how influential this channel is in delivering a business outcome inside an integrated campaign".

In a survey from August 2009 published in eMarketer, only 16% of marketing professionals were measuring the ROI on their social media programmes.

And finally another view from the insights experts would go something like this: "The issue is not methodology it’s about determining what it is that we are trying to measure. It’s easy to measure the impact of a campaign but determining PR’s influence inside that campaign is very difficult – and secured earned media placements doesn’t answer that question."

Escaping the wilderness

So who is going to solve the problem and lead us out of the wilderness?

• Ad Agency Planners or Media Buyers? Nope, they are waiting patiently for someone to provide a magic formula on weight of spend to plug into a spreadsheet.
• Clients? Some could, at least those who have done marketing mix modelling on their own campaigns. They know the answer for their products but view their data as commercially confidential and are not about to share it widely.
• The Other Disciplines? That would be a ‘no’.
• Measurement Industry? They should but cannot agree on standard methodologies because it will harm their short-term competitiveness and differentiation.

So that leaves us, the PR industry. If anyone has the energy, we need a meaningful coalition of interested parties with some strong and purposeful leadership to step forward and provide the medicine we need.

It seems we shouldn’t hold our breath since, as one senior PR strategist put it to me this week: "The PR industry has failed to be curious about why influence matters and why what we do works."

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The Author

Stuart Smith

Dr Stuart Smith, Head of Corporate Practice, Hill & Knowlton EMEA.

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