Posted by Phil Hall
Thou Shalt Learn to Measure... or Else!
There is much talk within PR about measurement. Some people might say there is too much talk – entire conferences and online resources are devoted to the subject. A few trade journals devote endless amount of editorial space to pondering the subject of measurement, writing about it with such awe and mystery that it seems on par with the Kabbalah in its complexities and mysteries. There are even a number of characters running around the industry that claim to be specialists in this subject – and I use the word “characters” without irony because these people are making a nice living telling their peers the most obvious information imaginable.
What is “measurement”? The definition, truth be told, is painfully simple. PR measurement is simply trying to keep track of the quality of the PR work and its quantifiable returns. Notice I said “quality of the PR work” rather than “quality and quantity.” Quality and quantity, as any honest PR expert will confirm, are not synonymous. A PR campaign can generate hundreds of news clippings, but if they don’t bring about the desired results then they simply represent an excess of valueless ink.
How serious is this issue? If you believe some people, it is on par with global warming. I’ve waded through the numerous articles, blogs and conference sessions devoted solely to making sense of measurement, and the subject is viewed with an acute seriousness that you’d think the fate of the industry depended on the ability to measure PR activity.
To be frank and cruel, measurement is PR 101. Or maybe it’s PR 050, considering its focus is still heavily skewered on media relations (which, as we will see later in this book, is only part of the PR puzzle – and, as the new PR evolves, it becomes a relatively smaller one). But to amuse those who need to be comforted on the subject, here are some of the main concerns relating to measurement:
From a personal perspective: I never had an issue with measurement, nor did I wind up in situations where I could not provide an accurate measurement of how the PR effort aided the corporate goals. I have problems fathoming how PR professionals are flummoxed when they are required to present a detailed measurement of their work. In the new PR environment, those who cannot measure the effectiveness of their work will be out of work – and rightfully so.
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
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These arguments about the simplicity of measurement do not account for the typical integrated marketing mix, of which PR is only a part. If your company does a big splash at a trade show, runs a new ad campaign, holds a webinar series, sends e-cards, and oh yes, gets some press coverage -- all on the same message, all at roughly the same time -- it seems spurious to try and claim all resulting behavior changes and stock price movement are solely due to the PR portion. I don't believe anyone is saying PR measurement is complex simply to be difficult, or to avoid responsibility for results. It's just not as simple as this posting makes it appear.
Ah, but that's where research comes in -- and research is an increasingly rare commodity in the PR world. From my perspective, I find too many PR people would rather not bother to go that proverbial extra mile and research the results of their work. And as a sidenote, I would argue that three of the four examples cited here (trade shows, webinars and e-cards) can be traced to the PR mix. And if someone other than the PR professionals are coordinating the trade shows, webinars and e-card strategies, then something is seriously wrong with those PR professionals because they're allowing other marketing experts to steal their thunder.
This is a solid piece on measurement but it seems to reinforce our industries great weakness - our obsession with tactical measurement (what you address) as opposed the only strategic measurement that counts - opinion research. It's nice to show a fat pile of articles with the right messages and in publications that are read by theh target audience. But it still doesn't matter if what would seem to be the right tactic doesn't have the desired strategic result - impacting the opinion and action of the target audience.
I agree this is a PR 101 issue. But not becuase clip counting (or measuring other tactics) is easy, but because any person in the industry should know that all that matters is what the opinion of the relevant public.
I have to agree with Carrie. Measurement is easy, if PR is the only part of the marketing mix in play at the time, and this is particularly true in the consumer PR world. It's impossible to gauge PR's contribution in light of advertising, direct mail, web and other promotional efforts. In addition, many clients today are, to our detriment, only valuing PR's contribution in terms of sales increases, and as much as we can point to TV/print/broadcast/blog results, our efforts are only as good as 1) the product and 2) store-level service and a host of other factors.
Thanks for your input, Toni. Again, I have to cite the need to conduct research with the target markets to see what connects with them and what doesn't. If we don't ask specifically "How did you hear about this?" -- well, then we don't know. I also have to stress coordination with other departments (the sales people, the webmasters) determine if the PR work is generating results. You may be surprised at how many PR people just don't bother to go that proverbial extra mile to pinpoint what part of the sales spike is traced to their work -- and sometimes it is just as easy as asking someone in another department a question or two.