PR Measurement: the pursuit of consistent and credible metrics

8 years, 5 months ago


At long last industry standards are emerging that will allow results to be reported in a more uniform way that will strengthen PR’s case. By Marianne Eisenmann.

Throughout the past year I have been closely tuned in to the developments in PR measurement – attending the leading conferences, participating in the IPR Measurement Commission and the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications [AMEC] meetings, contributing to the discussion on PR measurement standards and developing solutions for clients. This is a time of real change for PR measurement. We continue to be challenged by the need for accountability, all the way up to the C-suite. We are seeking solutions to evaluate social media, calculate return on investment and quantify intangibles like relationships.

At the same time, industry groups and measurement specialists are collaborating and working harder than ever to create standards for PR measurement and align on an industry-wide point-of-view on approaches and methodology. Here’s a look at where the industry has been over the past 12 months and where we’re headed now.

PR industry standards emerge
Standards for PR measurement are long overdue and have become a leading topic among the “measurati” this year. Organizations face a pressing need to compare the results of multiple PR campaigns across brands, business units and geographies. In the absence of an industry-wide methodology for data collection and analysis, in-house communication teams and their PR agencies are using inconsistent definitions and calculations for results reporting. This frustrates management and puts budgets and resources at risk. To gain or keep their seat at the table, senior communication leaders want transparent, replicable metrics – similar to those presented by their counterparts in marketing or finance – to demonstrate their results.

Therefore, practioners are asking for guidelines to ensure that all their PR efforts are being measured using the same methodology. In some cases, communications teams have already established their own guidelines and pushed them out to their agency partners.

The first step in addressing the need for standards was the Barcelona Principles. Established in 2010 at the 2nd European Summit on Measurement and endorsed by PR industry organizations, the Principles provided the first important contributions to PR measurement standards – specifically stating that 1) advertising value equivalency (AVEs) does not equal the value of PR, 2) measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs and that, 3) the effect of PR efforts on business results should be measured when possible. The Principles were followed in 2011 with standards on how to conduct the underlying research for measuring public relations performance in a paper onStandardization in Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation.

The progress towards standards gained momentum in February 2012 with the founding of the Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards, which is committed to creating a broad platform of standards and best practices for public relations research, measurement and evaluation.  The initial partners include the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF), the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

The Coalition took a first significant step in June when they unveiled proposed interim standards for PR research and measurement for traditional media analysis, social media measurement and ethics in PR measurement. In line with International Standards Organization (ISO) processes, the coalition is seeking industry input on the proposed interim standards, followed by review by a panel of research customers and rigorous validation. It is a long road to become an officially sanctioned standard, but this is a solid first step. It is also a collaborative process, with industry thought leaders working together to draft standards, and a call for broad industry input (via the embedded links below) a critical part of the process.

Standards for traditional media measurement
The “Proposed Interim Standards for Metrics in Traditional Media Analysis,” addresses some of the core elements of traditional media metrics such as calculating impressions, what counts as a media “hit”, assessing sentiment and quality – basic measures for which practitioners have consistently failed to achieve consensus. As the comments from industry professionals to date suggest, these are important first steps focused on outputs only, and we need to go further to address the outcomes linking PR to business results. But, while there is still ground to cover, this effort is more than anything we have to date and brings us closer toward establishing a common language, transparency and consistency. And, the next phase for traditional media standards is already underway.

Standards for social media measurement
The effort to establish social media measurement standards began in 2011 with the creation of the #SMMStandards Coalition, a cross industry collaboration which unveiled its roadmap and first interim standard in June 2012 at the AMEC European Summit. These include a "content sourcing and methodology" table that helps clients know “what’s inside” the measurement for full transparency and easy comparison (like a food nutrition label). We can expect further proposed standards from the coalition on reach and impressions, engagement and influence later this year.

Also introduced at the Summit was a glossary of social media terms called Plain Speaking – a central repository for definitions and terms in social media measurement to promote consistency and a common lexicon.  Feedback is welcome via the comments section, and the glossary will be updated monthly. An updated Valid Metrics Framework for social media was also shared.
All the standards processes will be market-driven, and practitioners’ comments are encouraged. The goal is to create a common language and unified metrics from which we can all benefit. Look for more on standards in the coming months.

Top of mind topics in 2012

Though the strides in standards dominated the PR measurement conversations this year, there were many other recurring topics. Here are five themes that you are likely to encounter in your daily measurement work.

Impressions vs. influence in social media
Arguably the most discussed topic in measurement after standards is how to do it for social media. There are many commercial tools available to assist in this effort and their pros and cons have been widely discussed. There is no one answer and, like traditional media, measurement needs to be tailored for specific programs. One common theme emerging is that we don’t always need to measure the whole universe of conversations, but rather focus on what is being generated by relevant influencers in the space. Of course, determining influence is another challenge that includes consideration of who do they know, who listens to them and what are their affiliations.  This is a more strategic approach to tracking and measuring the impacts of conversations in social media and planning appropriate proactive initiatives.

Measurable, business-oriented objectives are paramount
The importance of establishing measurable objectives is already clear. A good objective should facilitate the measurement of business impacts and outcomes, not just outputs, from a series of tactics. Measures of outputs should go beyond media impressions and article count to include message pull-through or other quality measures such as visuals, accuracy and tone.  Or, even better, move closer to measuring outcomes such as, do people who engage with your messages take action. Do they go to your website for more information? Do they download a toolkit or take a quiz? Are they sharing your materials? Do donations increase over the course of a media blitz? Objectives should also be specific – so “increase awareness” is not as good as “increase awareness among working moms with school-aged children.” A business objective with regard to PR may not necessarily directly relate to sales, but it will answer the general question, “Was this effort worth it?” in a way that business minds can understand.

Whether measuring outputs or outcomes, it is important to set the measurement tools in place right from the start. So, if you are measuring consumer engagement with digital tools, be sure you are set up to track the number of apps downloaded, contest entries received, quizzes taken, or whatever the objective may be. If you will use survey research to track change in awareness or perception, be sure you have a benchmark as a starting point and a plan and budget in place for post-activity research to demonstrate the change.

New thinking on Return on Investment
Closely related to measuring business objectives is return on investment (ROI). There is no silver bullet here and don’t expect one anytime soon. But, there is some continuing dialog on ROI prompted by a Council of PR Firms working group and the Miami Debate at the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC), among others. The recommendations focus on adhering to the strict financial definition of ROI – money in, money out – because anything else will discredit the profession in the eyes of the boardroom and executive suite. However, in order to account for the intangible and long-term benefits of PR that can’t be easily calculated in financial terms we need to capture the “Total Value of PR.” This approach will allow practitioners to express the impact of their programs on things like sales, sales leads, and cost savings in well-accepted financial terms when possible.  It also will make the case that the total value of PR is greater than ROI by showcasing the impact on reputation, stakeholder relationships, public opinion and other intangible gains.

Progress in Measuring Intangibles, Like Relationships
To better illustrate the intangible value of PR efforts, such as those for a public affairs or issues management effort, PR measurement experts are employing more specialized measurement approaches. One example is the Measuring Engagement and TRacking Influencer Communications [METRIC] Model, which measures evolving relationships with stakeholders by defining the desired actions, assigning them a weighted value and tracking activity of a defined stakeholder group over time. [Full disclosure – the Model was developed by me and my team at Chandler Chicco Companies and is currently implemented for several of our clients.] Unlike many other custom measurement tools, there is a case study in the public domain, so it can be accessed and applied by practitioners to their own scenarios.

Measurement is not an end in and of itself
At a minimum, we all need to be measuring outputs (quantitative results), if not outcomes (how the quantitative results correlate with measurable impacts). But metrics are not the end of the road for evaluation. Measurement is a powerful tool which can guide program refinement and development over time, create best practices and reveal key learnings for future programming. Practitioners should not let reports sit idle or become door stoppers. Elevate their importance by outlining actionable insights for the next phase, highlight strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For example, did some reporters respond particularly enthusiastically to your messages? Did a whole category of stakeholders seem disinterested in engaging? Did you generate attention from influential bloggers or create a buzz on a social media channel? Why? The answers to these kinds of questions will help strengthen communications programs. Take the time to think of measurement not as an end point, but as part of a continuous feedback loop.

What’s next?
With continued focus by businesses on accountability, measurement is likely to stay in the forefront for public relations practitioners for years to come. The topics mentioned above will be leading the conversation, so stay tuned to the resources highlighted here (via the hyperlinks) for updates on measurement tools and approaches.  We can certainly expect to see much more on standards in the near future, which will serve the industry well in aligning on measurement for all.

Thought Leader Profile
Marianne Eisenmann leads the communications research and measurement team at Chandler Chicco Companies (CCC), a group of PR specialty agencies focused on healthcare communications. CCC is part of inVentiv Health. She is a member of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Measurement Commission, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) and the IPRA United Nations Department of Information Advisory Group. Measurement work she leads for clients received the Institute for Public Relations 2011 Jack Felton Golden Ruler Silver Merit Award and an AMEC Communications Effectiveness Silver Award in 2012. Marianne was included in PharmaVOICE's 2012 list of the "100 Most Inspiring People" in the life sciences industry.

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The Author

Marianne Eisenmann

Leads the communications research and measurement team at Chandler Chicco Companies (CCC), a group of PR specialty agencies focused on healthcare communications

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