In October, 2017, John Gilfeather, president of John Gilfeather & Associates, weighed in on the pages of PR News about the difficulties PR agencies and in-house departments face in attempting to measure the effectiveness of their efforts (“Mobster”).

In his essay, Gilfeather states most PR pros cannot honestly cite analytics/big data as a core skillset. If they seek to hire a research partner to do the job, they can be confused by the offerings of a plethora of measurement firms all claiming to be superior. There are, of course, budget constraints. For some there may also be a sense of trepidation, i.e. “We may find out we’re not doing as well as we thought.”

Allyson Hugley, President of Measurement and Analytics for Weber Shandwick, also expanded upon the pain points of PR measurement, indicating there has been too much talk and too little action. “The industry continues to discuss data evolution conceptually — as a thought-leadership topic — rather than pushing aggressively for a real, industry-wide data transformation,” Hugley wrote.

We can all agree that PR measurement is not only about numbers and tone anymore. And it’s not about trying to measure the absolute success or failure of a program.

Today, measurement is truly about how organizations can use accurate and insightful data to influence business decisions and develop more strategic guidance. There are many aspects within the realm of data measurement and its relationship to business success, and thinking differently and strategically about measurement is critical to validating the value of public relations and the research itself.

What are today’s forward-looking organizations doing to surmount barriers to effective measurement? What results can be expected when organizations make the shift to truly strategic measurement?

The following points have emerged from discussions I’ve had with industry colleagues who noted examples of how they derived strategic, actionable insights from the measurement of PR.

  • Leverage the value of CSR. As strategic business people know, investment in corporate social responsibility (CSR) amounts to far more than “feel good” activities; it delivers ROI. According to research from Cone Communications, nearly 90% of Americans will purchase a product because a company advocates for an issue they care about, and three-quarters will refuse to buy from a company if the company supports an issue contrary to their beliefs. Case in point: A leading financial services organization sought to measure the impact of its national and regional CSR campaigns, including its “share of voice” metric, i.e. how much positive and negative coverage it’s garnering on this topic versus its top 10 competitors.

The company established a baseline for measurement and, after just one-quarter, saw a positive share of voice increase of more than 15 percent. A veteran executive quickly concluded the results were so strong the team should undertake similar efforts to boost other brand drivers not associated with CSR.

  • Ask the right questions during a crisis. Given the intense focus on their industry group, technology companies sometimes weather sudden, powerful crises that can quickly threaten to undermine their reputations. One company recently dealt with a product-related crisis which resembled a similar situation a year before. The communications staff analyzed data from the prior year to answer a number of important questions: How often did we respond to inquiries about the product situation? Are the same authors and outlets telling this story? What can the social sharing from back then tell us about what we’re dealing with now?

After collecting and assessing the data, the company positioned itself to make smarter decisions. It opted to increase the frequency of its responses to inquiries, for instance, to shorten the news cycle. Thus, the volume of social sharing – which, in this case, would be largely negative – was sharply reduced, along with the time window for sharing.

  • Improve the effectiveness of events. Another case involved a communications team that staged an annual event in Asia for years. A competitor had also been running a similar event there around the same time and had recently dominated the share of voice in U.S.-based media. Knowing they had to improve event execution, the communications team compared year-over-year data for both events to accurately compare the coverage as well as discussions surrounding related topics and subtopics, including the tone. Because they had this data, the company could look back at specific pieces of information that could help them uncover different influencers, new topics, etc. Armed with this data, the team developed a strategic plan to more proactively connect to the influencers, authors and outlets which could make the most positive impact well ahead of the next year’s event.

These examples are the tip of the iceberg in knowing how to develop and maximize strategic media measurement data. For example, you can detect if a prominent journalist is covering your brand constantly, or only intermittently, or if your target audiences are talking about you or your competitors and what they are saying. You can understand what level of influence social media has on traditional media, and if certain topics play better in different social platforms. Developing this type of information often requires a shift in thinking. Basic media metrics often prove to be irrelevant in the context of broader business operations. However, by focusing on business goals and measuring against them proactively, communicators can adapt their media strategies to enable more strategic results.

Jim SimonJim Simon is a former chief communications officer (CCO) of several Fortune 500 corporations and is a current trustee of the Institute for Public Relations and member of the IPR Measurement Commission. He serves as a consultant to CCOs and CMOs in several industry groups and authors a regular column for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch/GateHouse Media. He also guest lectures at universities and colleges.

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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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