Measurement in PR - are we doing enough?

Last week I attended the Measurement and Analytics conference, which looked at tackling the data-deficit in public relations.

While we can be confident that the specter of AVE is fading into the distance, is there still more we could be doing to measure success?

Within the PR industry, we’re all incredibly good at supporting each other; sharing expertise and knowledge, learnings and successes – and of course commiserating when things don’t go quite as well. However, we shouldn’t forget to look outside our own industry and ask honest questions to understand how we are perceived.

David Stevens, Marketing Director at British Land, provided a marketers’ perspective, saying, “The world is full of the unforeseeable, the uncontrollable, but we still measure it. I’m not sure why PR is different?”

David’s comments led me to ponder how many senior marketers – as well as c-suite executives – continue to be frustrated with public relations’ apparent inability to provide credible metrics that offer genuine insight?

David shared his belief that PR professionals are being let down by our industry bodies, pointing out that just two pages of the CIPR’s entire handbook was devoted to measurement, while only one of the 35 courses being run during 2018 will be dedicated to measurement.  

The observation raises an important point; if our professional bodies appear (to the outside world at least) indifferent to measurement and analytics, so does the wider industry and those working within it. Yet, as a Member of the CIPR myself, I know how much time and effort is invested in improving measurement capabilities and best practice within the industry – indeed, it is a central tenet of CIPR President Elect Sarah Hall’s objectives for the coming year, focusing on PR as a management discipline.

Alex Aitken, Executive Director for Government Communications touched on this point at the beginning of the conference, advising us to be intellectually curious; this curiosity, he said, will lead to a bigger impact in the boardroom and, ultimately, more success in communications activity. If PR is to earn that long-coveted seat within the c-suite, measurement is vital.

Measurement, he said, can provide proof points to persuade stakeholders of the wisdom of more radical ideas, things that are perhaps a departure from the norm.

Yet, while there’s no doubt that the industry is alive to the opportunity offered by accurate, credible measurement, we must remember that we’re not always in total control of all aspects of a campaign – there will be things we cannot influence – and we may also not have access to all of the necessary information.

Richard Bagnall, Chairman of AMEC, told us to measure only what matters, while highlighting the move away from PR as message-deliverer to conversationalist. Marcus Gault, MD at Kantar, told us not to measure what we can’t influence.

Discussions around the willingness of clients to share necessary data and insights to facilitate effective measurement were illuminating, with varied opinions – if we aren’t in possession of crucial data sets from clients, whether Google Analytics or other measurement tools and methods, we cannot produce robust analytics. Claire Foster, deputy head of news at Direct Line Group, explained that her team, while close-knit and operating very much in an integrated way (and with nine external agencies!) prefers to handle measurement in-house, explaining that she does this to reduce crossover and because "it would seem a little like the agencies are marking their own homework."

While it’s great that the industry has turned its back on AVE, we clearly still have some way to go.

Listening services and monitoring dashboards are nifty but so often just count things – they don’t measure value. The speakers at Thursday’s event were kind enough to share with us some great tools to provide structure to measuring the success of a PR campaign and its value to an organisation.

Alex Aitken shared the GCS Evaluation Framework, to be accessed via the following link:

Richard encouraged us to use the AMEC Framework:

He also pointed out the rather nifty ‘Status People’ tool – simply put in your Twitter handle and find out how many ‘followers’ are fake, inactive and good. Can you believe that 61.5% of Google traffic isn’t even human?

Richard advised us all to check out the Mary Meeker Internet Trends report for background – I’ll certainly be keeping my eyes peeled for the 2018 edition, due in Spring.