It’s time for PR professionals to end their insecurity about measurement

For the last four years I’ve attended AMEC‘s European Summit on Measurement. During this time, I’ve also put together three programmes for our own PR Analytics conferences. Over this period I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we’ve seen a step change in the measurement practice in PR.

Here AMEC’s Chairman David Rockland summarises his thoughts on the progress that has been made in the evaluation of public relations:

Good measurement processes in PR used to be the exception, that is no longer the case. Many corporations have robust evaluation and measurement models. Those with such models that I’ve seen, just in the last couple of months, include Phillips, Vodafone, Microsoft, eBay, Ikea, McClaren Automotive and Oxfam.

So good measurement is no longer rare, it’s a necessity. Is every PR professional doing it? No. But they will. Last week I wrote a blog suggesting that the public relations market was split into two camps on measurement – 40 per cent are doing it using valid metrics and techniques and 60 per cent are in the “I need to get around to this, and soon” camp.

Should PR people purely focus on measurement? No. Analytics is very important but there is nothing wrong with PR by the gut. Don’t become a data monkey, data is a tool and not your reason for existing.

I believe that measurement change within public relations will be driven by one group: In-house Communications Directors. It is this group of people that AMEC and measurement professionals must engage with. PR agencies, trade bodies and trade magazines might be a catalyst for change, but the change will be driven by in-house decision makers.

Within that macro shift here are a few trends that I’ve noticed:

  • Measurement should be in real time. This doesn’t mean you need to drown in data throughout the day but you should have an alert system of KPI’s and key words that flag up successes and threats. Some measurement takes longer. For example, understanding behavior change, but this should exist alongside more immediate measurement metrics.
  • There is a contradiction at the heart of measurement currently. On the one hand, in-house people want simplicity but the measurement geeks are supplying complexity. Now, in a sense, the customer must be right, but actually both parties are. In-house people need a simple transparent process to ensure that they can measure their PR successes against real business objectives. But still, proper measurement can be complex. Do bear in mind that often measuring statistics and numbers is simpler than measuring behaviour.
  • We now live in a multi-channel world where PR works alongside advertising, digital and social agencies. PR should use metrics and standards that are suitable and relevant for the industry. But as PR becomes part of a wider communications mix, it should be prepared to use the language of social media, advertising and digital. This is actually a benefit for public relations because in most market mix modelling that I have seen – PR actually offers better returns than other areas of the marketing communications mix.
  • Numbers versus behaviour change: the measurement by numbers is important, but actually measurement of behaviour change is probably more important.
  • Measurement is a journey, all brands need a robust measurement process but like all things in life, if you’re starting your journey, start small, learn and build.
  • AMEC could operate a non profit making resource that helps in-house comms directors set up their evaluation model. Currently the process is needlessly painful for brands, the learning from past experience that AMEC has should be documented and applied in a useful way. It will also enable more widespread take up of best practice.
  • Talking of best practice, AMEC alongside the PRCA have launched a PR Professionals Guide to Best Practice. Its a useful resource for anyone wanting to understand how to measure PR.