A golden moment for the PR industry – why now is the time to reap the rewards of better evaluation

Looking ahead at the PR industry as CARMA and the PRCA join together as partners.

5-7 minutes

“Last week, we were pleased to announce CARMA’s appointment as the exclusive Media Monitoring & Analysis partner for the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Association) and ICCO (The International Communications Consultancy Organization).

Following this announcement, we sat down with Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA, and Chief Executive of ICCO and Richard Bagnall, Chairman of global communications evaluation professional body AMEC & co-managing partner of CARMA International, to talk about all things measurement, and what the partnership will mean for the industry.

We started by asking for a ‘pulse check’ on how the industry was engaging with PR measurement, media intelligence and evaluation.

Q: The need for better media intelligence in the industry has been a topic you’ve both talked about for some time. Do you think that the PR industry is on board yet? Do leaders really understand what better media intelligence can deliver (and the implications of not getting it right?)

FI: Over the course of my 13 years with the PRCA, I’ve found that every year, the industry has become more strategic and less tactical, and more sophisticated in its use of data to provide insight. And that’s the case for both the in-house and agency worlds. Of course, not everyone is at the same place, but everyone has begun that journey – and we’re all going in the right direction.

One of the areas we’re seeing most progress in is in pitching. Agencies are able to use hard numbers and data-driven insights to inform campaign ideas, rather than gut-feel and gimmicks. And on the in-house side, comms directors are able to ask for evidence from their agencies to justify budgets and demonstrate their value at the top table.

Q: What do you think is spurring this progress? Has Covid provided a catalyst for change?

FI: The last year has been a real fight for survival, and hard on us all. But, the silver lining has been that PR and communications have become absolutely vital to businesses in all industries and of all sizes. In many cases, the normal touch points (like events, meetings etc) with clients and stakeholders have vanished – and so PR has taken centre stage. And crucially, companies have needed to communicate their own response to the pandemic – how they’re evolving and adapting and serving their customers in these unprecedented times.

All this has led PR practitioners to put research at the heart of what they do, tracking campaigns, better measuring results and being cognizant of real goals and objectives at all times. And, given the importance of comms, clients and in-house teams are now prepared to pay for proper evaluation – it’s not just a luxury anymore, it’s now a necessity.

For me, this is a transformative period for our industry.

Q: So we know that measurement is increasingly important – but what type of measurement is winning the day? Are vanity metrics like AVE now finally consigned to the dustbin of history?

RB: Year on year, we are seeing more desire to understand and embrace meaningful measurement – which is incredibly promising – but some outliers remain. Of course, we know that different regions are going at different speeds, but even in the most mature markets some organisations remain reliant on activity-based performance measurement.

Covid-19 – and the related financial uncertainty – is a real catalyst for change though. We live more than ever in an era of accountability – and we all have to prove our value. Finance Directors are putting red lines through line items that activity based without tangible benefits. There is no room for cost centers that can’t point to the value that they create, and if PR practitioners continue to measure themselves on tactics and activity only, they become incredibly vulnerable to that red line.

FI: Absolutely – and it’s promising to see the progress being made for the majority. Of course, it differs from country to country, and continent to continent, but in the UK fewer than 10 per cent of our members now use AVEs to track the impact of campaigns, preferring more meaningful measurement approaches instead.

Q: This sounds like good news – at least for most. But outside of the big Covid-shaped issue, what other challenges are PR practitioners facing today when it comes to measurement?

RB: This is an era of significant change. The media has been disrupted – with more outlets, publications and content platforms than ever, audiences are fragmented and polarised, and PR has been disrupted too. Comms professionals are under pressure to deliver integrated campaigns via Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. And, into this disruption has appeared many companies which appear to offer cost-effective solutions – real time and automated platforms which basically just count ‘stuff’. They promise a lot, but just because they show pretty charts and data tables, doesn’t mean that they’re measuring what actually matters.

It’s those big, automated numbers which are the real vanity metrics of today. The temptation is to see dashboards with lots of figures and think it’s measurement. But of course this isn’t enough. PR practitioners have to shape what they’ve done against organizational objectives. Real success comes when they take those ‘digital breadcrumbs’ and link them to outtakes (what do people think as a result of what you do) and outcomes (what do people actually do as a result)?

Q: What will the CARMA/ICCO/PRCA partnership bring to the industry?

RB: It’s a great match – PRCA is the world’s largest PR and communications professional bodies and we’re a global media intelligence and PR evaluation business. We share a mission which is to help the global communications industry to receive better media intelligence and more meaningful measurement, evaluation and insight. Working with Francis and his team has always been a pleasure through our long-standing relationship achieved at AMEC. Extending that relationship through my day job at CARMA is a very comfortable fit. Francis has always been a strong supporter of AMEC’s best practice, educational resources and guidance too, it’s a partnership that we really appreciate.

FI: Yes – our relationship with AMEC is the most important partnership we have – bar none. It’s integral to the future development of the PR industry: we have lots of competitors from other professional services muscling in on PR-spend, and it’s proving value that will allow my members to stand out from the crowd. And, of course, this new global relationship with CARMA International will be integral to this too.

So, the future is bright for PR practitioners who embrace more meaningful measurement to gain better understanding and insight, demonstrate success and protect budgets.

Next time, Francis and Richard talk to us about the skills gap – and how communications measurement can also help us attract and retain talent in the industry. Stay tuned for more.

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