PR Measurement’s Missed Opportunity

May 1, 2018

More and more, PR professionals are being asked to produce reports that go beyond vanity metrics — those impressive-sounding but hollow numbers of page views, social media likes and shares, etc. — to include measurements tied to business goals.

Providing information that illustrates how public relations contributes to a company’s bottom line is a step in the right direction for our profession.

But if we merely move from rote reporting of vanity metrics to rote reporting of outcomes, our progress will be incremental at best. The deluge of data available can make it overwhelming to incorporate analysis into our work on a regular basis. However, deep in the ongoing analysis of data lie clues for how to work smarter and provide operational value to our internal and external clients.

Current state of measurement

When communications people talk about measurement, we’re usually assessing data at the end of something: the end of the month, end of the quarter, end of the year, end of a campaign or outreach program, etc. Such reporting does have value: It shows progress toward goals and provides a framework for better decision-making. But PR practitioners are becoming more skilled at assessing impacts rather than just counting outputs, which is good for the practice of public relations and for its clients.

Beyond ‘what?’ to ‘why?’

Ongoing analysis is measurement’s missed opportunity. But what’s the difference between reporting and analysis? The distinction sometimes gets blurred, largely because reporting numbers can tell us a great deal and therefore seem like analysis — which is why we like visual reports such as graphs and charts.
We also analyze some information quickly in our own heads. For example, a PR pro might look at quarterly sales figures and see a bump in sales. At about the same time that sales rose, the PR person had placed a glowing review in a magazine widely read by the company’s target audience. The PR pro might infer that the earned media was responsible for bumping up the sales numbers. This type of guesswork about PR value is risky, but also fairly common. When specific measurements aren’t put in place, speculation and assumptions fill the void.

Reporting provides an account of the information collected, while analysis looks at its component parts. More basically, reporting tells us what happened, while analysis tells us why it happened. Analysis often goes even further, using available reporting and data to predict what might happen in the future.

Creative thinking

Analysis is the practice of drawing conclusions based on data, so it helps to think creatively when doing this work. Creative thinking can solve problems caused by gaps in data, either by locating additional data or by applying human insight (such as institutional or historical knowledge) for a clearer picture.

Consider how human insight fills this gap: While reviewing a line chart showing your company’s “share of voice” — the percentage of your brand’s marketing activities within the total for an entire sector or product type — and those of two competitors over the last year, you notice a sudden, massive jump for one competitor during the third quarter. Is it something to be concerned about? On closer examination, you realize the competitor had a major PR crisis during that time period — thus explaining the rapid rise in its share of voice.

Seeking out additional data to fill gaps in understanding likewise involves creativity, particularly in determining what kinds of data might be available and useful. Such informed creativity and analytical thinking help organizations predict future outcomes.

Benefits of ongoing analysis

By tying measurements of PR efforts to organizational goals, we aren’t simply proving the value of public relations to the business. We’re showing what kinds of messages are successful, and how the business can take advantage of this insight.

While end-cycle reporting makes a big difference, sometimes it’s advantageous to make quick adjustments along the way. If data show that something is helping meet business goals, ongoing analysis will spot that trend as it happens, so the business can capitalize on the information.

Let’s say a national nonprofit organization has kicked off a year-long campaign designed to grow its volunteer ranks and increase monthly donations by 10 percent. To meet those goals, regional chapters have flexibility in how they deploy a PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) media mix. Shortly after the campaign begins, one region is running well ahead of the others. But since the organization isn’t waiting until the end of the quarter to analyze its PR data, it can see which activities are working and then share that information with its other regions, helping to improve the organization as a whole.

The reverse is also true: If ongoing analysis reveals that something isn’t working, you can course-correct, potentially saving time and money and possibly even averting a crisis.

Effective PR measurement comprises many parts: tying results to business goals; identifying correct inputs and activities; and using the right means of capturing outputs, outtakes and outcomes.

One thing becomes clear: Measurement requires effort. When we relegate PR measurement to an end-of-cycle activity, we lose some of its value, and fail to achieve the full potential of our outreach efforts.

Roxane Papagiannopoulos

Roxane Papagiannopoulos is managing director of media analysis for CARMA North America. She has 20 years of experience providing clients with strategic insights that inform and improve business communications and outcomes.


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