The year 2015 was a huge one for PR Measurement. The Barcelona Principles were updated from their initial unveiling in 2010, “Measurement Week” was expanded to a full “Measurement Month” and we finally solved the #1 pain point keeping people up at night – ROI. Ok… maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch.
After speaking at, and attending, numerous measurement conferences throughout the year, I was able to see just how far measurement has come, and just how far it still has to go.
The good news:
More and more people are recognizing that measurement is no longer an add-on, but an important part of every program. At one conference, when a speaker asked, “Who recognizes the Barcelona Principles?” the number of people with their hands raised doubled from when I first heard the same question asked last year. The percentage was still a rather anemic 25 percent or so of attendees, but that’s a whole lot better than the deafening silence that greeted the same question a year earlier. (Want more information on the Barcelona Principles? – click here)
The bad news:
Measurement is still largely focused on media. How to measure ROI is still one of the biggest questions out there, and just looking at media is not going to provide the answer. Most still use a share-of-voice graph as their proof point. But PR does not live in a bubble, and neither should its measurement. It might not be your job to tie everything together, but you should work with a larger team to make sure all data outputs feed into something.
It’s frustrating to see how many senior communication executives are still reluctant to share data with their peers within the organization (or with their agency partners). Media metrics should be tied to social media metrics, and those findings should then be tied to website metrics, which should be tied to paid media metrics…and so on. The point is to never stop thinking about your end-user, the audience or influencer you are trying to reach. Your efforts are leading them somewhere, and you need to be able to measure that connection.
That end-user is key, and quantitative numbers are never going to provide a full understanding of their behavior. Even if you have access to all the internal data possible (and this is usually very difficult, especially for agencies), it is still difficult to tie PR directly to a business goal. Subteams – media relations, social media, website, etc. – aren’t inspired to look at their areas as part of a total impact on end-user engagement, and they’re often competing with the other subteams for resources. So it’s up to the senior communication and marketing executives to paint the larger picture on the impact the total team is having.
The key to tying PR to business outcomes lies in providing a qualitative overlay to your quantitative metrics. I recommend a “walk in their shoes” qualitative research exercise. Peppercomm calls this “Audience Experience,” an outside-in examination of what an organization promises versus what the actual end-user experiences. And, we use our trained staff to not only determine what gaps exist and why but, critically, how those gaps should be addressed in the organization’s communications program. The end result is enhanced authenticity. “Audience Experience” is a form of market research that provides a much richer understanding of what the data actually means. Simple quantitative outputs are important for benchmarking and tracking the success of certain metrics, but not for understanding the “why” behind them. We have found that asking actual end-users to go through the process of purchasing, investing, selecting or hiring and then chronicling their experiences, good, bad or otherwise along the way is a great way to uncovering the “why.” That, in turn, allows us to provide insight into the metrics in ways that are not possible by simple counting the number of mentions.
2015 has seen major progress in the PR world of measurement. I hope that 2016 will be the year to take measurement out of the PR bubble and see what it can really do. Numbers are just numbers until they provide an answer to the critical question, “Why?”
Nicole Moreo is Director of Research and Insights with Peppercomm, Inc., a strategic communications firm headquartered in New York. Follow her on Twitter @kikimoreo.