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Deliver significant media awareness…cut through the frenzied media clutter in a fun and buzz-worthy way…deliver media splash and an emotional connection… Huh?

If you’re like most executives funding PR programs, you will have no idea what these objectives mean or how their performance will be measured. But if you’re like many PR people, you are padding important client communication with similarly unnecessary and often meaningless words and phrases. What’s more, these examples were lifted from awards submissions to one of the profession’s most prestigious competitions. In other words, if “the best of the best” are incomprehensible, what about the thousands of programs not considered award-worthy to begin with?

Most public relations research and evaluation today is done for two reasons: to provide the feedback that’s required to continually improve PR performance, and to demonstrate the value of PR to those who contribute to funding and decision-making. Unfortunately, when we choose to substitute vague jargon for clear concise communication, neither goal is achieved. Instead, let us communicate more clearly to give our clients and staff a reason to listen.

What follows are four proven tips to help you succinctly communicate your objectives, your performance and your accomplishments:

  • Stop pretending. The business people who fund PR programs recognize that PR multipliers are baseless; they can see that PR performance and advertising equivalencies are apples-and-oranges; they know that clip volume isn’t the primary goal…and so on. The dirty little secret is that most PR people know it, too. These fake measures may work up to a point, but eventually somebody figures it out and when they do, things can become very unpleasant very quickly.

Instead, work with your PR team and your clients (internal or external) to establish a measurement system that accurately reflects PR’s unique value and return-on-investment. Use common language so that everyone benefits during the objectives-setting, strategy development and evaluation stages.

  • Be brave. One agency executive told me that he was being forced to use circulation/audience multipliers because the client’s last agency used them and, as the new agency, clear levels of improvement had to be shown.

If PR is going to evolve as we all agree that it should, we must educate our clients to the advantages of verifiable measurement. We must show courage by putting a moratorium on the use of bad measurement. Eventually, clarity will emerge and become the norm.

  • Lead by example. Agency and department executives who willfully choose to use irrelevant or improper measurement are only perpetuating the problem.

Instead, leaders must demonstrate the importance of proper measurement by setting the pace. There are many sources of measurement information including the Institute for Public Relations, IABC and PRSA, as well as through publications and webinars such as those sponsored by PR News. Commit to educating your staff: Much of this information is free and it’s easy to establish a measurement task force to develop in-house expertise. No excuses.

  • Make it easy. Each year, Delahaye surveys thousands of executives to help define the value system by which they appraise public relations performance. What we’ve learned is that their expectations lean toward a measurement system that is meaningful, reasonable and measurable. Clip volume is measurable but it means little; driving sales is important but it’s impractical. Instead, executives believe that “delivering key messages to target media,” “beating the competition” and “meeting or beating objectives” cover the most important bases.

The great news is that the expectations of these executives are perfectly aligned with PR’s abilities. What’s needed, of course, is the commitment to measurement that makes these criteria possible to quantify. The easiest way to communicate PR performance is to do so in the preferred language: Following through on a commitment to concise clear measurement language is the first step towards comprehension, adoption and execution.

If it hasn’t happened to you already, the day is approaching when you will be asked to “prove it.” Public relations research and evaluation methods have reached the point where they are affordable, flexible and reliable. PR professionals can feel confident not only in responding to measurement questions but in taking the initiative for savings, value, and continual improvement.

The PR measurement revolution is under way and it’s happening with you or without you. If you’re not committed to becoming proactive about PR research and evaluation, I can assure you that one of your competitors already is. So rather than allowing the world to move forward without you, commit instead to taking these steps:

  • Become acquainted with the science of public relations
  • Take charge rather than waiting
  • Embrace the challenge
  • Act now while others commit to beginning tomorrow.

Mark Weiner
Senior Vice President, Cision
Member, Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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9 thoughts on “Mark Weiner: Embracing Clarity of Measurement

  1. Communication without clarity of purpose is automatically immeasurable.  Thus, the position of WEINER accurate but there should more explanation on this position paper.

  2. In response to Jim Sweeney’s post—at the heart of the issue here in corporate-land is the notion that PR is provable in the same sense as Finance. We can calculate the ROI on a new quad extruder, but it’s much more complicated to do so on a new communications editor.  It’s true that funding for research in PR within corporate is thin—it’s also true that even well-funded social science research is still perceived as “softer” than quantitative research.  I maintain, however, that there are ways to provide solid feedback that contributes to understanding PR’s role in business without breaking the bank. In fact, here at Goodyear we use a daily intranet poll as a general indicator of message uptake and employee attitudes. Is it scientific? No, probably not. But it nonetheless is valuable as a planning and execution tool—if we aren’t seeing the results we hope for or expect, that leads us to strategic approaches supported by some data, as opposed merely to native wisdom. 

    Of further interest is the work of Michaelson, Stacks and Jeffrey on impact of media volume—extrapolating their efforts to the internal constituency, I see a possible link—if we communicate in sufficient volume, we can expect results. If we don’t do any stories, for example, on safety, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to see improvements in safety.  Goodyear’s “No one gets hurt” campaign has seen dramatic improvements in OSHA recordable injuries. and we are measuring (among other factors) the number of safety interactions, whether face to face, in plant newsletters, or stories on our Intranet.  The results indicate that the more the safety messages are transmitted and received, the better our numbers and the closer to our ultimate goal (no one gets hurt) we get. Cost avoidance is another valid measure, as are hours of work saved (not missed due to injury.)

    As far as clips go – count them, but analyze them for content and report the analysis, then look for correlations to business measures.

    Leadership is seeking to understand why clips matter—it’s up to us to convince them.  Mark’s piece here reminds us that we need to add value to the business, even if that means we have to give up some long-held notions of what our jobs entail.

  3. How very refreshing to read this value-focused and performance-based perspective on what PR should actually accomplish. Agencies should take responsibility for the profession they represent and stop passing the buck to their clients. Corporations hire agencies to act ethically while instilling their expertise and positively influencing their markets (ideally)…and complaining about what little result their current practices have on their clients’ expectations is accomplishing nothing. The truth is that those who prefer not to change with the times and act more to [positively] affect clients’ bottom line are part of a dying generation of PR and are desperately trying to maintain the smoke screen that has allowed them to pursue their outdated and ineffective practices for decades.

    In a perfect world, clients would volunteer huge budgets and understand the value of PR in regards to real influence. Since this is not the case, it is our job as PR people to find more effective ways to quantify our value and increase our budgets accordingly with this proof. Eventually, as we are beginning to witness, the C-suite will fully understand the worth of this profession, and this will begin with speaking the same language and having the same goals.

    The time has come to show our worth, get real and move this profession to the next level!!!

  4. I think this is just more of the same old stuff.  What is actually being said?  There is nothing clear or concise being related in this letter from Mark Weiner.  Be Brave!  How about “be real” as an option?  Unless you are among the elite global agencies with clients who are both enlightened and adequately funded, there are no budgets available to scientifically measure the effectiveness of the work we do.  Welcome to the world of reality.  Without benchmark studies and post campaign studies and behavioral monitoring, the best we can hope for are “clipping reports” and “reply mechanisms” and other elementary tools that at least allow us the ability to demonstrate to clients – who are crying for ROI but unwilling to pay for it -that we are getting something accomplished.  Mark is preaching to the agency choir; try talking to our corporate counterparts and getting them to take some – if not all – of the responsibility.  We are aiming in the right direction, but we are missing the target… and shooting ourselves with friendly fire.

  5. I’ve been teaching/preaching the “Emperor’s new clothes” aspect of using ad equivalency and multipliers for years.  I’ll be sharing this piece with my students as validation!

  6. Thank god, some honest, level-headed commentary on measurment.  For too many years, PR people have played foolish games with meaningless clips which were for some reason translated to be an artificial benchmark for determining success.  Great work on this, Mark.

  7. Ultimately, meaningful measurement in public relations should be based on how far we move the needle, since we are in the business of changing attitudes and behaviors.

    That would require as much research before we begin a project, to show where we started, as after, to show our impact.  If our results have to be dollar-based, we would have to start correlating needle-movement statistics with losses prevented or income gained.  We couldn’t rely on rules of thumb, because every case is unique.

    Since most of us have neither the time nor the money for this kind of social science research, we have to keep refining and inventing ways to use honest evidence to demonstrate our impact indirectly.

    Using multipliers and ad equivalencies creates artifacts–numbers that might be interesting in themselves but useless in measuring impact.  They don’t show who actually read our messages, whether they were believed, and whether we actually affected how people think or what they do.

  8. i totally agree that ad equivalency is not the way to go.  unfortunatley, the higher-ups in my organization understand dollar signs and only want to see dollar signs.  my boss and i have both tried to convince them this is not the way to go with measurement, but we’ve both been told ad equivalency is all they want.

  9. Congratulations and thanks to Mark for such a concise yet powerful summary of the state of measurement and evaluation in public relations. And thanks to the Institute for making it widely available, as the potential impact is a real contribution to our field.

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