Holly Heline JarrellThis is David Geddes, chair of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.

Today I am talking with Holly Heline Jarrell, Group Managing Director at GfK Custom Research North America.

Holly, tell us about your deep background in research, especially as it relates to measurement and evaluation of communications.

I have spent the past 25 years working in the research industry, with my main focus on public opinion, consumer trends, corporate reputation, and research for advocacy and public relations. Currently I am Managing Director of GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications and also GfK Roper Consulting, our consumer trends unit. GfK Roper is the partner to the AP-GfK poll and the Anholt-GfK Nations Brand Index, which measures the reputations of countries around the globe. I have served as Global Director of Research for MS&L Worldwide and Senior Vice President at the Daniel Yankelovich Group.

My M.A. is in Survey Research. I studied under Burns Roper at the University of Connecticut. This was a profoundly useful and hugely humbling experience. Seeing research through his remarkable 50 years of experience as a pioneer in public opinion research deeply shaped my approach to the business of research. I learned that very little is black and white in the area of measurement, and that the best research has to come from empirical trial and error.

We’ve just entered the second decade of the 21st century. What are you most excited about in the area of public relations research, measurement, and evaluation?

What is remarkably exciting is that we are now in a period where public relations measurement is simply the expected, the norm, and there is a plethora of tools available. Our approach to measurement can be as simple or complex as our budgets allow, and there is tremendous room for creative research design. Certainly, not every public relations program includes a measurement component, but it is widely accepted that the best programs must.

Like others, I am jazzed by availability of technology for measurement. What gets me really excited is when we can bring together high standards of research and proven methods with new technology.

GfK Custom Research is well known for using primary market research techniques. How are you approaching research, measurement, and evaluation in a social media world?

GfK globally has a number of initiatives to tackle research in the social media world. GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, which focuses on PR and public affairs research and measurement specifically, is working with clients to create programs that seamlessly integrate traditional survey research with social media measurement. Our team is deeply committed to marrying solid knowledge and deep insights about the audiences our clients are measuring with an understanding of how these audiences are acting and interacting online.

Survey research remains the best tool for sizing and understanding key audiences, and should be a part of any major measurement program. Yet, when a program marries traditional survey tools with social media measurement ‑ such as online communities designed for research purposes or web monitoring tools ‑ the results can be more robust than using those tools in isolation.

Our latest innovation that we are about to launch focuses on monitoring dialogue among Influential Americans® ‑ a population that we have studied for over 5 decades ‑ in a closed online community. We see this community as a Petri dish for understanding how Influentials respond to issues, how they talk about issues, and how they share their opinions.

It’s just a fascinating time to be exploring measurement. As a researcher by trade, I think the key is committing to finessing our measurement tools. There are so many options available for tracking and probing social media, yet not all are equal and not all are grounded in the principles of good research. At the same time, it’s easy to fall back on old and tested tools. It takes commitment to get to usable and trusted results. Sharing information and listening to other researchers and PR practitioners is the best way to keep moving our tools forward.

Our own IPR Commission on Measurement and Evaluation brings together so many POVs and so much talent in this area. It’s a great forum for listening and learning.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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