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Vanity to Value: Reflections on AMEC’s 2023 Global Measurement and Evaluation Summit

Last week I attended AMEC’s Global Summit on PR measurement and evaluation held for the first time in the USA. It was a brilliant conference, jam-packed with knowledge-sharing and insights. Themed “Vanity to Value: Demonstrating the Impact of Comms,” the summit focused on the importance of measuring outcomes and the benefits of well-researched, planned, and measured communication strategies. The theme underscored the pressing need for PR and communications professionals to move on from merely counting activity-driven metrics to showcasing the true value that their expertise contributes to organizational objectives.

Over 250 attendees from all corners of the globe benefited from the exceptional sessions and unparalleled networking opportunities offered by AMEC. The expertise on display was superb, and what was so nice was the collaborative atmosphere of the summit. Regardless of experience level, specialism, or global location, every attendee participated and created an environment where shared insights, challenges, and successes could be explored.

Earlier this week, Ben Smith chatted to me and fellow AMEC Measurement and Evaluation board director Steph Bridgeman on the PRmoment Podcast about some of the key themes coming out of the summit. You can listen to the podcast here. In the pod, Steph and I discuss 6 themes that stood out to us. Below, I elaborate on a few of them in more detail.

Theme 1: Earned media is value, and not vanity for organisations

Matt Neale CEO of Golin, kicked the summit off with a captivating opening keynote titled “Moving Earned Media Upstream”. He discussed the evolving media landscape and the increasingly important role that PR, social, and influencer disciplines play in the marketing mix. Matt emphasized the need for marketers to embrace an Earned-first approach beyond and not to rely on Paid media as the lead when building brands and businesses. Drawing attention to the soaring costs of paid, Matt presented research showcasing a fourfold increase in expense of paid over the past five years. Not only has its cost increased, but trust in the media has declined, and audience numbers have dwindled too. With these challenges in mind, Matt urged that PR and Comms pros should seize the opportunity created. To do this, PRs need to shift their focus from measuring tactical activity to strategically informing campaigns, measuring what truly matters, and unearthing the valuable insights that inform strategy. Embracing credible metrics that resonate in the boardroom will enable PR to take the lead. He cited Finola McDonnell, Global CMO of the FT newspaper, who described the current opportunity as “A huge opportunity for PR to take the lead”.

The keynote included the opportunity for PR to ascend the marketing mix and assume a prominent role in shaping organisational strategies. Matt emphasized the responsibility of data and analytics teams within the communications discipline to spearhead this evolution, prioritizing objective setting, audience understanding, and meticulous planning. By doing so, the industry can ensure that PR is at the forefront of transformative changes, ultimately leading to earned-led success in brand marketing.

Matt Neale of Golin

Theme 2: Generative AI in Comms, Planning, Research, and Evaluation

With all the hype in the sector about AI, it was no surprise that it was another key theme at the summit. Multiple aspects of AI were explored especially in the session “Generative AI – Use Cases in Communication Measurement and Evaluation”. This session was a panel discussion with Maya KolevaMohan Doshi, and myself.

The discussion focused on the potential benefits and drawbacks of generative AI in PR and media intelligence. We examined various media intelligence tasks where LLM tools like ChatGPT could provide efficiencies, including identifying relevant content, writing Boolean search strings, summarizing clips, coding content, and even generating reports and insight decks.

Despite the excitement of the efficiencies and time saved from AI, the panel also acknowledged the critical concerns surrounding the use of AI tools. The “black-box” nature of AI algorithms raised transparency issues and the added risk of biases creeping in. Additionally, challenges including ethics, AI ‘hallucinating’, the confidentiality of client briefs and information, copyrighted media content, and licensing complications were also discussed. The panel contemplated a potential dystopian future where AI dominates content ideation, generation, monitoring, coding, and reporting. All agreed on the importance of human guidance, enrichment, and checks and balances for the AI, and also that as comms pros we should not lose sight of our key audience’s requirements in the process either.

This led to a conversation around the future of ‘expertise’ in the face of AI’s increasing capabilities. As entry-level jobs in PR and media intelligence/evaluation agencies become easy to replace with automation, concerns were expressed about the availability and source of future experts who are needed to add value to the AI process. Where would they gain their experience in the workplace? This in turn raised further questions about the shifting landscape of employment and the need to prepare for the disrupted future we face.

John Murphy, professor of Digital Media at the University of Connecticut, quoted from the Washington Post as he warned of a potential future where the bulk of future content on the internet would be generated by AI and that this content will then be the training data for next family of generative AI. Plenty of food for thought for the summit to digest regarding our short and longer-term futures.

Theme 3: Meaningful Measurement is in demand and here to stay

It was very apparent that there is a global, unified, and enduring demand for meaningful measurement and evaluation of comms. Professionals from academia, media intelligence agencies, PR consultancies, and in-house communications teams all united in their acknowledgement that it is time for the whole industry to move on from relying on counting clips as a proxy for demonstrating success. The focus needs to move beyond simply counting ‘stuff’ in the mainstream, digital, and social media towards crafting a comprehensive measurement narrative that aligns with organizational objectives and demonstrates tangible value.

In a rousing keynote address, distinguished Professor Jim Macnamara from the School of Communication at Sydney’s University of Technology emphasized the importance of avoiding “substitution errors” caused by mistaking media metrics for actual organisational outcomes. He reminded attendees that any metric derived from media content is merely an “output.” To truly understand ‘outcomes’, we must understand the behaviors, activities, and cognitive responses of target audiences and key stakeholders with whom we communicate. Jim reiterated that impact occurs within the audience, not solely within the media.

Fortunately, this challenge is not as daunting as it may seem. AMEC’s “Integrated Evaluation Framework,” built upon the foundation of a program logic model, is now the global standard for guiding communications professionals in achieving meaningful measurement. The AMEC framework, which bridges the gap between output metrics and desired outcomes, has cemented its place in the industry and is poised to endure.

Distinguished Professor Jim Macnamara

Theme 4: Delivering Insightful and Engaging Data Storytelling

In his vibrant session “Unlock the Power of Your Data: Master the Art of Storytelling for Unprecedented Success,” Jonny Bentwood from Golin emphasized the importance of going beyond mere data analysis to deliver profound insights. He urged a shift in focus from overwhelming audiences with an abundance of charts to providing actionable intelligence based on only the key points. Jonny underscored the importance of curating and distilling data into its most relevant and impactful elements, enabling communicators to surface valuable insights that drive strategic decisions and shape communication plans. The key lies in presenting visually appealing data, charts, dashboards, and reports that engage and captivate the audience.

Jonny Bentwood of Golin

Another pivotal aspect covered was the significance of hiring data storytellers rather than relying on technical and data expertise. By prioritizing individuals who possess the ability to effectively communicate the narrative within the data, the session highlighted the immense potential for PR measurement stories to be both informative and useful. The industry should strive to craft data-driven stories that truly engage audiences and bring insights to life.

As communicators, we have a remarkable opportunity to harness the power of data storytelling with our measurement and evaluation. By prioritizing the delivery of insights that are valuable, useful, and interesting, we have the ability to capture attention, foster meaningful understanding, and effectively demonstrate the profound impact of our communications strategies.

Theme 5: Uniting for Excellence – Speaking with One Consistent Voice in PR Measurement and Evaluation

A unifying theme throughout was the critical role that AMEC plays as a global educator in promoting best practices in communication evaluation, research, and measurement. There is a pressing need for the PR and communications industry to elevate its approach to measurement and evaluation, focusing on demonstrating value rather than just showing how busy we have been. Today’s global uncertainties and economic climate mean we face tightening budgets. As a result, proving the effectiveness of the PR function is more crucial than ever to avoid being perceived as just “busy fools”.

AMEC has a proud history of spearheading initiatives that have advanced the industry, including the Barcelona Principles, the Say No to AVEs campaign, the Integrated Evaluation Framework, the Measurement Maturity Mapper, the PR planning guide, and the foundation and certificate courses in measurement and evaluation. However, advancing standards cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires the collective effort of the global communications and media intelligence industry to join forces and speak with one consistent voice. This unity should encompass us all, PR agencies, media intelligence service providers, in-house PR and communications professionals, academics, global professional bodies, trade associations, PR & comms sector publishers, PR awards programs, and PR event organizers. By uniting and raising the bar together, we can collectively elevate standards across the industry.

There was far too much great content at the summit to cover here. Maja Pawinska Sims of PRovoke Media has done a great job covering many of the sessions as AMEC’s media partner so head over to PRovoke for more. Above and beyond my highlights, were unmissable talks from Kyle Mason of Shell, Allyson Hugley of LinkedIn, Katie Delahaye Paine of Paine Publishing, Stella Bayles of CoverageBook, Paul Stollery of Hard Numbers 📈Carmen Romero of NATO, and an emotional and powerful close from Julia Petryk of the Ukrainian PR Army.

If you’d like to know more, don’t forget that you can take a listen to Ben, Steph, and me on the PR Moment Podcast. But if you have FOMO and want to rectify that situation, it’s not too late! On demand reduced price streaming tickets are available on AMEC’s website. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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