In PR, Measurement Matters; But How Do We Do It?


Key Takeaways from the Public Relations Society of America Measurement Symposium

Mark Weiner, CEO of Prime Research
Mark Weiner, CEO of Prime Research

Any public relations professional who has studied for the APR exam, or who has read the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, released in 2010, knows that research and measurement are key components of an effective, strategic communications plan.

The first Barcelona Principle stresses the importance of goal setting and measurement. Effective measurement begins with developing communications objectives that answer who, what, when and how much the PR program is intended to affect.  A useful acronym many PR professionals are familiar with is SMART–Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-driven and Time-based.

Yet many of us still struggle to apply measurement in our everyday practice.

For those seeking guidance, PRSA and the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) teamed up to present a pre-conference measurement symposium during the 2013 PRSA International Conference that took place Oct. 27 at the PRSA 2013 International Conference in Philadelphia.

“Data is a competitive advantage,” said Allyson Hugley, in her opening remarks. Hugley is chair of the AMEC North America chapter and executive vice president of Measurement, Analytics and Insights at Weber Shandwick. “Companies that are data driven are more productive and more profitable.”

Baby Steps to Measurement Management

Marguerite Marston, commercial PR manager for IKEA U.S., described her department’s struggle to develop a new measurement mindset. The catalyst for change was a new chief marketing officer who used analytics to drive the business forward. Prior to that, Marston said, the PR department was measuring campaigns, but not yearly progress.

“What stopped us was lack of awareness and that PR was more of an afterthought, with the smallest budget in the marketing department,” she said.

IKEA’s PR team members began by educating themselves about the Barcelona Principles, and having an ongoing dialogue about how to move towards integrated measurement. Marston said they then took “baby steps” towards implementing changes. “We were talking about outputs and impressions and now we’re seeing a shift towards reporting behavior change,” she said.

Marston advises PR teams taking their own baby steps to keep it simple, affordable and make sure your approach is aligned with your client’s or organization’s needs.

Outputs, Outcomes and the Rise of Stupid Machines

The second Barcelona Principle states: “Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferable to measuring outputs.”  Outputs include all the tactics deployed by the agency or organization, whereas outcomes include shifts in stakeholder awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior.

Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research and author of Unleashing the Power of PR said PR professionals must measure both.

“Measuring outcomes without measuring outputs is the slowest path to victory,” he said, because outcomes are measured infrequently—usually only once or twice a year. And since these outcomes reside in the mind of your target audience, the primary way to measure them is to conduct a survey designed to capture the outcomes you need to measure.

“That’s not agile enough to guide day-to-day decision making,” said Weiner. As an example, he said, knowing what press releases were picked up, and which ones weren’t, immediately informs your ongoing media relations decisions and activities because you will know what kind of content whets journalists appetite.

“On the other hand, measuring outputs without measuring outcomes is the noise before defeat,” Weiner added, because without outcome evaluation you will never know enough about your performance to make improvements as needed.

The fourth and fifth Barcelona Principles state: “Media measurement requires quantity and quality;” and “AVEs [Advertising Value Equivalents] are not the value of public relations.” So, instead of reporting clip counts, impressions and comparing the space of earned media (news stories generated by press releases and media alerts) with its equivalent in paid media (advertising), public relations professionals are asked to measure such things as tone, credibility and relevance of the medium to the target audience, key message delivery, inclusion of a company spokesperson and prominence within the medium.

The principal method for measuring these qualities is through content analysis. Weiner noted that content analysis methods have evolved through three distinct trends.

The first wave was manual content analysis by communications professionals.  “This was appropriate and possible when the pace and volume of media was slower and manageable,” he said. This produced high quality content analysis, but the process was slow.

The second wave was fully automatic content analysis, which came about in an effort to keep up with social media, which moved at a faster pace than human eyes could track. So, software solutions were developed to track such things as keywords.

“These were fast, but they were stupid,” Weiner said. “They couldn’t tell the difference between such statements as: ‘Ford makes great cars and Ford makes anything but great cars.’ This high-tech approach to content analysis generated lots of irrelevant and inaccurate data, and resulted in a lot of false, misleading insight.”

Now, he said, a third wave is evolving that’s a hybrid of both technology and human measurement, which Weiner says is far superior. This approach is shaped around letting tech do what it does best—delivering speed and consistency—and letting humans do what they do best—uncovering relevancy and insight.

“If it was about technology alone, everyone with a keyboard would be Tolstoy,” Weiner said.

Demonstrating Value and ROI

But measurement without context isn’t enough. The third Barcelona Principle states: “The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible.”  For many public relations professionals, this is the most challenging—and most expensive—analysis to undertake because it involves marketing mix modeling and statistical analysis—fine if you’re Wal-Mart, Apple or General Motors, but not so much if you’re, well, nearly anybody else. Yet there is broad consensus that public relations must demonstrate value and show a positive return on investment.

“Measurement is essential to the ROI/Value conversation,” Weiner said. But he cautioned that public relations professionals should avoid using those terms interchangeably.

“ROI is measurable,” Weiner explained. It’s a quantitative financial measure, which relates dollars spent with business results. Value, however, is subjective and relates only to perceptions of expectation, worth and importance.”

Weiner invites communications professions seeking online guidance about measurement to visit PRIME Research’s content database at

Measurement that’s sweet for the C-suite

Valuable metrics answer the questions executives care about.

Mark Stouse, vice president, Global Connect of BMC Software explained the Influence Scoring System (ISS), a measurement platform his company developed after a pivotal conversation with a CEO who asked some tough questions, such as: “I know this is important, but how important is it?” and “How much of what you do is luck vs. skill?”

Stouse said this motivated his company to change the conversation about communications metrics and start with “the big three — the Crown Jewels in the CEO world: revenue, margin and cash flow.” ISS was developed for business leaders, with their collaboration and guidance. The system was field tested for eight years in three public companies and later with five PR agencies.

ISS integrates tactical, operational, and strategic outputs to calibrate marketing and communications activities. First, all tactics are given a point value, then an “environmental difficulty index” is applied, which Stouse said is analogous to driving a car on a paved road at one end of the spectrum versus a dirt road in the rain at the other end.

The third overlay assesses each tactic for demand generation, deal expansion and sales velocity. These affect revenue, margin and cash flow. “All three levels are always fully exposed, based on principles of transparency,” he said. This ensures all stakeholders know and understand all three perspectives.

“ISS creates a logic path that chief executive officers recognize and respect, and data correlations they need to make decisions,” said Stouse.

He added that the platform also “enables agencies to run their organization like an investment fund, to accurately predict performance and impact across multiple functions.”

It also eliminates client subjectivity around performance and allows agencies to automatically adjust performance objectives based on increases and decreases in spend, he added.

A version of this post was published in PRSA Tactics available here. 

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