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Back to school – why better PR measurement education matters

In conversation with the PRCA's Francis Ingham and CARMA & AMEC's Richard Bagnall.

3-5 minutes

Last week we spoke to Richard Bagnall, CEO of CARMA and Francis Ingham, Director General of the PRCA, about a pervasive skills gap within the PR industry.

We talked about how investment in better measurement is a powerful solution to fast turnover in the industry, as well as helping stem a mass exodus of older employees. Proving the value of what we’re doing, say Richard and Francis, is crucial to job satisfaction, higher fees and better pay.

But another skills problem is lurking too, and this time it’s affecting the most junior employees. Richard and Francis report that PR graduates are entering the workforce without all the skills they need to hit the ground running; and one important area which is most often missing is a good understanding of the importance of PR measurement and evaluation.

Although there are plenty of comprehensive, impactful and valuable PR degrees out there, measurement and evaluation are areas which aren’t as well covered as they should be.

“Graduates tell us that measurement is often covered in perhaps one lecture, and frequently feels an afterthought, just a very small part of a much wider module which tends to focus more on tactics, and less on strategy” confirms Richard. “As the industry increasingly recognises the importance of media intelligence, meaningful PR measurement, and in particular linking communications activity to demonstrable effectiveness against organisational objectives, this simply isn’t enough. Graduates have to be better equipped to succeed”

There is a need for better collaboration between industry and academia, and that senior in-house PR professionals and agencies alike must engage with universities in order to influence curricula and ultimately ensure that the industry is fueled with skilled employees. It’s here where apprenticeships, work experience, internships and on the job training can help – bringing students and their ultimate employers closer together from the start.

Just as it’s crucial for students to understand how measurement can help secure budgets and demonstrate value, they must also understand the measurement techniques which are helpful, and those which are less so. Thankfully vanity metrics like AVE are acknowledged as being meaningless and accordingly are losing traction around the world, but Francis and Richard warn against replacing them with other large, yet meaningless numbers.

“There is a temptation is to see dashboards and real time charts with lots of figures and think that it’s meaningful measurement.” says Richard. “But, just because it’s counting something, doesn’t mean that it actually counts. PR professionals have to shape their activity against organisational objectives and desired outcomes. Meaningful evaluation comes when PRs link the ‘digital breadcrumbs’ generated by their tactical activity to the outtakes (what people think as a result of the activity) and the outcomes (what your key audiences have now done).”

As part of the recently announced partnership, the PRCA, ICCO and CARMA plan to make more teaching material and resources available to universities – helping infuse degree courses with current and industry-standard information.

“This is an area where we can all do better.” says Francis. “We now need to prioritise nurturing a new generation of PR professionals who can leverage measurement tools to prove the industry’s worth and defend their budgets in an increasingly competitive environment.”

Richard agrees. “We’re in an era of accountability like never before” he says. “Across the globe, organisations are scrutinising budgets and redlining spend when contribution to the bottom-line isn’t attributable. Ensuring PR professionals understand how to defend their position as creators of organisational value, rather than purely cost centers undertaking activity with no clear purpose, is absolutely crucial. This is an ongoing challenge in the sector, so it’s not just important for vocational degrees, but also on the job training. The role that PRCA and ICCO play in ongoing professional development matters more now than ever, and is another reason that both AMEC, and CARMA, value our respective partnerships with them.”

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