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There’s never been a time like the present to harness the power of PR measurement. Working in a complex and disruptive media landscape, with budgets more tightly squeezed than ever, PR professionals have to prove they are value providers for their organisations, not just cost centres.
This pressing need was addressed in our recent webinar on demystifying PR measurement – aimed at helping make what can often seem like a complex task more manageable – and more meaningful.
In the session, I de-coded some of the jargon frequently used in the industry – and answered one of the most commonly asked questions: “what’s the difference between ‘outputs’, ‘outcomes’ and ‘outtakes’, and what do they mean for measurement?” I explained that outputs refer to what you put out to target audiences, outtakes are what the audiences understand from your comms, and outcomes are what audiences do as a result.
While all three have a place in measurement strategies, it’s outcomes, the behavioural change of our audiences, which is often the most valuable (and tricky) to analyse. To do this successfully, metrics must be aligned to organisational goals. It also requires a framework that blends quantitative and qualitative data, which is intrinsically linked to business activities.
I also took attendees back to the starting blocks by explaining that, at the start of anyone’s measurement journey, there are three key pieces of advice I give, all aimed at making a daunting task more achievable. They are:
1. Crawl, walk, and then run. A slow and steady start is good – and you’ll never be perfect right out of the box. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good – realise that any progress you’re making is important and worthwhile.
2. Understand that measurement drives behaviours. What you measure against becomes what your team tries to do. If you only set targets on volume coverage, they’ll be driven to achieve that rather than achieving higher quality more targeted coverage. So measure only what you really see as valuable, this will drive the objectives and performance of your team.
3. Avoid the temptation to count everything. Communications analysis, when executed well, is less about trying to generate big numbers than finding meaning in them and using this to improve performance.
Impressions are in danger of becoming the new AVE
It was perhaps no surprise then that our audience followed up with questions focused on these three areas too. One audience member wanted to talk to us about the value in counting impressions; impressions represent the number of times a website is loaded into a browser (not your article specifically) so present artificially high numbers when represented as readership or reach. Indeed, impressions are in danger of becoming the new AVE – impressively big but potentially meaningless measurement stats that risk damaging the credibility of the analysis. It’s much better, we told this participant, to measure something which really matters, even if the numbers generated aren’t as big.
Another asked how to measure opinion change – beyond simply asking audiences how they feel. This made me think about my first tip – that you don’t need to get your measurement perfect straight off the bat. Do market research, look at what people are saying on social media, work with other stakeholders in the business, and use this information to build a complete picture of behaviour. Identify how behaviour is changing and, importantly, what has triggered the change. It will take time to see how sentiment is shifting, and it’s important to be patient here.
Our own Co-Managing Partner, Richard Bagnall, asked me about planning. He shared that in his experience, often PR professionals don’t find the time to plan, and it’s this that makes measurement particularly hard. I agree – too often comms objectives and organisational goals are misaligned and I always start by asking my clients to think about what their CEOs want and build comms plans around that. I think this is a big reason why people get stuck around measurement. Without a plan, PR is just ‘doing stuff’, which is easy to measure with quantitative metrics but often not sufficiently credible at the top table. If we understand what we want to achieve, and plan around it, then measurement becomes exponentially more important.
So, plenty to think about – and there’s more here if you’d like to view my full presentation. As well as tips on how to make PR measurement more achievable and meaningful, I explain some industry jargon and build a framework too – a crucial part of demystifying the process!
This article was written by Jason Weekes, Commercial Director for Europe and the Americas for CARMA International, the global communications evaluation consultancy. He has spent the last 16 years helping clients prove and improve the effectiveness of their communications programs and has developed services for some of the worlds’ largest companies and political institutions.