Public Relations Tactics

The Grown-Ups’ Table: Why PR Measurement Needs to Mature

October 31, 2013

Thanksgiving is coming up, and many homes around the country divide the participants into the kids’ and the adults’ tables.
This tends to frustrate one particular age group: teenagers who feel they are no longer children and are now young adults.

But many of us adults cringe at the idea of having the teenagers at the adult table, because while they think they are the most interesting people in the world, often, they don’t contribute to the conversation happening around them. (“Whatever” doesn’t count.)

In some ways, public relations can be like the teenager who wants to be at the adult table. But, guess what? You don’t get in for free. Whether it is bringing a higher level of conversation than one-word answers or proving value in the C-suite, you don’t get to sit at the big table unless you have something to say that others want to hear.

This PR complaint is universal.  I recently spoke at the PRAXIS conference in Lavasa, India. It is a tremendous event bringing together PR agency and corporate leaders, despite being a difficult location to reach, whether you are coming from New York or Mumbai. There, I heard the same refrain as I have at similar meetings around the world: “We need a seat at the table!”

We know that measurement is the way to earn our place.  However, until recently, measurement was only about clipbooks, impressions, AVEs and other meaningless results.

To get a seat at the table, PR pros needs to do several things:

• Use both the left (quantitative) and right (creative) sides of the brain. How often does someone say they went into PR because they weren’t very good at math?  We need people in this profession who can both come up with the creative ideas, as well as express why and how those ideas tie into the business objectives of the organization they are supporting.  Maybe they are not the same person, but we need both traits in equal amounts in our agencies and the profession.

• Stop using stupid words and phrases. Ask a PR person what they do, and you’ll hear things such as create buzz, drive media coverage, shape the online dialogue, create emotional connections, and build deeper and more meaningful relationships.

These are useless terms that people don’t understand. We need to convert our language to be about using earned media to drive sales, profits, employee loyalty and retention, donations to a nonprofit, etc. Use the same metrics that drive the organization’s business. Often, the PR professional is sidelined, not because they do inferior work, but because they describe the results in terms the rest of the people at the big table don’t value.

• Embrace the analytics approaches that already exist. Most other marketing disciplines have been using tools for a long time that clearly indicate the value they are producing. We need to use those tools and build PR into market mix models.

• Stop thinking of measurement as only a look in the rearview mirror. It’s not about justifying what you already did. Good measurement is about understanding where you are, how you got there, and to predict where you are going with a roadmap to do so.

A ray of hope

Initially, I came away a bit depressed from hearing the same old pushback at the PRAXIS workshop, such as “if my client won’t pay for measurement, why should I do it?”or  “I can’t set goals for public relations because I don’t know the overall business objectives.”

However, after the conference, I spoke at the Symbiosis Institute for Media and Communication in Pune, India. There, around 80 master’s students amazed me with their questions and insights. It was apparent that they are building both their right and left brain muscles at the same time. They could talk about causal modeling as easily as they could talk creativity and generating strong media results — similar to students coming out of a number of U.S. institutions.

So maybe public relations is going to grow up and sit at the adults’ table sooner rather than later.

Have measurement questions?


David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

David Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA on July 31, 2017, but continues as part-time chairman. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton, who recently retired from CBS News, have also started their own research and consulting firm to work with Ketchum and other clients at


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