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Why are we still having a “how to measure PR” debate?

This month sees the return of AMEC’s Measurement Month so I thought it was an apt time to ask a few broad brush questions to the guys at The Measurement Practice about the measurement of public relations.

1. Why are we still having a “how to measure PR” debate?

Guy Corbet: The PR industry continues to ignore the connection between proving its worth through consistent measurement, and getting a seat at the top table.

Too often measurement can seem too difficult, too time consuming or simply not worth it. Despite developing new techniques to improve measurement, the measurement industry itself must bear some responsibility for this perception.

Many programmes with modest budgets seem difficult to measure.  But that’s when clear objective setting and measurement are all the more important.

Sometimes reluctance is a barrier. Just as good measurement will recognise good work, it will also highlight the bad stuff. Inevitably, for some, that is a concern.

The discredited, but still widely used AVE is too often the path of least resistance, especially as it is so often provided free by cuttings agencies. Many more fashionable alternatives, such as OTS, are hardly more illuminating.

2. Is there any evidence or logic that measuring PR is more difficult than advertising?

Mike Daniels: Yes.  Much bigger advertising budgets can more easily cover the investment necessary to measure their effectiveness.  

Yet there are plenty of case studies showing that measurement, when used to demonstrate PR effectiveness, definitively leads to increased budgets.

Advertising, and other marketing services disciplines, have formalised using past performance to inform future planning.  That's the foundation on which advertising is bought, while PR still, too often relies on anecdote and intuition to justify investment.

Much of advertising measurement looks at the end result, sales, and the behaviours leading up to that. PR and communications on the other hand will not always be trying to make a sale. Different business objectives require different approaches.

3. In terms of the strategy, is the measurement of PR not as simple as setting an objective and delivering/not delivering on it?

Guy Corbet: Sometimes. Everything depends on the ultimate business objective, and how the communications strategy supports that.  

Tactical output objectives (volume, sentiment, etc) are really measures of work-rate, not effectiveness. That requires objectives based on outcomes.  

The measurement should also be designed so the feedback it provides can help sharpen and improve how the communications evolves to support the business.

4. Integrated outcome measurement is the what most observers see as the end game, but attributing contribution in a programme of integrated communications remains difficult right? Or have digital technologies meant integrated measurement is more easily achievable?

Mike Daniels: Digital technologies have made more possible.  Large-scale programmes often use analytical modelling to identify which elements any change in outcomes should be attributed to.  

However, the wide availability of digital metrics should not be confused with insight or value. Counting what can be counted is not the same as counting what matters.

While digital communications are relatively easy to count, most communication is not digital so attributing results to it can be very misleading and counter-productive.

In the end, the most important thing is to identify simple, often integrated, measures that assess how communications has helped to meet business objectives. These should then be able to be used to enhance the future programme and strategy.

Guy Corbet (@GuyCorbet) is an an associate of The Measurement Practice and Mike Daniels (@MikeDDaniels) is the Principal.

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