The 9th Annual North American Summit on Public Relations Measurement recently concluded. The Summit featured excellent presentations by Yahoo!, Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Conagra and Blue Marble Enterprises; panel and discussion sessions on outputs and outcomes and on standards; and pre-conference workshops covering a research and measurement boot camp, social media measurement, standards, budget management, and analytics.

InfoTrend was honored as the recipient of the Jack Felton Golden Ruler Award for a predictive mathematical model of media impact on corporate reputation. I took advantage of my acceptance talk for a reflection on priorities (or the research agenda, if you prefer the terms used at the Lisbon conference) for the public relations research, measurement, and evaluation field.

Why is this the time to consider action-oriented priorities for the public relations research, measurement, and evaluation function? Senior public relations leaders in organizations and agencies now accept that measurement and evaluation is necessary. We agree on the principles of research: set goals and measurable objectives; link metrics to goals; measure, evaluate, and advise; and repeat. These have been discussed at measurement summits in New Hampshire (many times), Philadelphia, Barcelona, and Lisbon; in papers, articles, and speeches; and in blogs.

Despite this discussion, we have not advanced the argument much beyond guidelines and principles. We need to develop and apply solutions to move our profession forward. This is the first of a series of contributions where I will lay out my vision of an action agenda for our profession: public relations research, measurement, and evaluation.

In coming weeks, I will be writing about the following:

1. Adopting a common measurement framework based on the model of activities, outputs, outtakes, outcomes, and business results.

2. Associated with this framework, a standard set of reliable, valid metrics.

3. Setting standards for public relations research, measurement, and evaluation.

4. Developing more and better statistical models.

5. Opening the box on metrics, indices, and models.

6. The need for empiricism as the foundation for our work.

7. Improving data quality

8. Education and training.

9. Ethical standards for public relations research.

10. Breaking down barriers that impede public relations research.

11. Quantifying and valuing the impact of public relations.

Are some of these thoughts provocative? That is my intention. Is it time to raise the level and broaden the scope of the output-centric discussions in Barcelona and Lisbon? Clearly, I think so. Engage in the discussion and let me know what you think by commenting below. You can also reach out to me directly; my contact information is on the InfoTrend company web site.  And look for more detail on these topics in coming weeks.

David Geddes, Ph.D., is Chief Consulting Officer at InfoTrend, Inc., a business research firm offering predictive analytics for public relations, marketing, and branding.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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10 thoughts on “Priorities for Public Relations Research, Measurement, and Evaluation: Part 1

  1. Colleagues –

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I plan to address many of your comments in coming weeks. Several writing projects led me to start this series, starting with the need for practice-oriented action as noted by several commentators. We need to step up the level of our game. Platitudes are no longer enough.

    It is not at all clear to me, Frank Walton, that public relations research, measurement, and evaluation professionals do share a deep understanding of common purpose and how we must meet that purpose. Discussion and debate too often reverts to output measurement. As Fraser Likely points out, the weight of the room, so to speak, lies with participants at agencies and research firms. These stakeholders are heavily involved in and heavily invested in media measurement, whether social media or traditional media.

    Tom Watson, Fraser Likely, and Frank Walton correctly point out that we need to serve our higher management purpose: building organizational value. The research, measurement, and evaluation function is essential to guide and evaluate, in the same way that corporate finance departments ensure that the organization makes the best use of financial resources. Unfortunately, too much of our function remains at the level of bean counting.

    Again, thanks for the comments.

  2. David,
    Thank you for your thoughtful approach — couldn’t agree more! More than ever, PR professionals are overwhelmed with tactical execution as the tools and channels continue to proliferate. The communicators’ job would be immensely simplified if we had specific tools to quantify effectiveness. If even a few of the 11 items on your action agenda were realized, the communicators role in most organizations would be elevated, and our work would be viewed as more integral to business performance.

  3. Way to rile things up, David. Full marks.

    I just posted a piece in The Measurement Standard, “David Geddes Cracks The Whip” ( ), that praises your ambitious agenda: “The gist of it is that it’s time for the measurement profession to get its ass in gear.”


  4. David, I salute you for pushing this envelope. To support your clarion call to be provocative, I would suggest that:

    Most PR research companies are only interested in measuring communication outputs. Most PR firms are only interested in measuring outputs; though, since Barcelona, they are giving increased interest to measuring communication campaign outcomes (perhaps ultimately to give the measurement of outcomes primacy over measuring outputs).

    On the other hand, most PR departments (and Chief Communication Officers) in organizations are interested in measuring outputs, outcomes and something more. It’s this something more that is ignored by PR research companies and PR firms. Your list of 11 points above also ignores the something more. And, since PR research companies and PR firms are driving the measurement bus, PR departments are attacked for not doing more output and outcome measurement – when, in fact, there is absolutely no evidence to show that the typical enterprise’s senior management team wants more communication output and outcome measurement. As most CCOs know, the senior management team is indeed measuring them. They are measuring this something more.

    The something more I’m referring to is measurement at the level of the function, the PR department, itself. There is much more to the measurement of PR ‘s contribution to – to use your phrase – “business results” than the measurement of communication outputs and outcomes. Something more is the measurement of the PR department’s role and value in the strategic management process of the organization.

    To emphasize what Frank W. wrote, please do look at the 11 points strictly from the vantage point of just one we: the CCO.

    To emphasize what Tom W. wrote, I’d also suggest the Excellence work, the work of the Swedish PR Association and Benita Steyn’s work on PR’s contribution to organizational strategy and planning.

  5. David – Good ideas and let’s get away from output and on to outcome and outflow. I can commend the DPRG’s kommunication controlling work ( and there’s a lot of serious work on the other topics. The focus needs to be on value creation and value links, not just metrics.

  6. David: I look forward to your upcoming “Conversations” on the 11 topics. I’d also like you to address (maybe topic 12) who is the “we” in your first conversation. I’m confident that “we” (research companies, academics, PR firms, client organizations) do have common purpose, but I often note that “we” do not have a common vocabulary or common short-term, immediate objectives and priorities (that is, doing PR work). “We” do need principles and standards, but “we” also need to know what to do, how to face today’s demands for delivering effective PR results in constrained financial situations and a volatile media environment. Ultimately, these conversations have to be about delivering better, smarter PR results in the day-to-day world we work in. I’m looking forward to you kicking off conversations that focus “our” attention on getting more good, smart work done. Frank

  7. I look forward to reading more on the topic. For too long we have talked about the issue, but we have not taken the steps to move this agenda forward. It is time to be bold and move forward.

  8. Hi David,

    Firstly, congratulations on the Jack Felton Golden Ruler Award.

    I’m most interested in the scope of work you outline here and would like to contribute. I wonder if the best way might be for me to send you a copy of my book, The Business of Influence ( Do let me know.

    I head up the CIPR’s measurement and evaluation group, and work with AMEC and I-COM on the matter; it’s a topic I am passionate about if for just one reason – the better we are at doing this, the better the communication (influence flows), to the advantage of all involved.

  9. Dr. Geddes, I stand with you, sir!

    One of my students this term complained that there wasn’t a singular answer to the question, “how do we calculate ROI on public relations?” I answered that ROI was a financial metric that needs a financial answer, and the question of value and how to measure value is likely more important in the modern business age.

    All 11 items on your list advance us toward that goal in one way or another.

    Let’s go!

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