PR professionals have always struggled to find the best way of evaluating the impact of their campaign on the client’s business.
In 2010 the PR industry tried to leave behind the Advertising Value and agree on new measurement standards. After that, more and more experts experimented with new models to perform more efficiently.
The root of the problem is that the communications industry has always relied almost entirely on their relationship with the media.
To this day, the number one aspiration of PR clients is to earn a desirable presence on the media, while the analysis of the impact of such appearance seems the last thing on their mind.
But things have considerably changed in the last decade, and PR professionals now find themselves covering what usually were PR marketing and creative advertising areas of expertise.
On the one hand, we have much more tools to measure and track the outcomes of a campaign so that we can reach new heights of digital PR effectiveness.
But on the other hand, evaluating the PR contribution to a company has become more sophisticated, therefore harder to master.
In 1987 the American academic John Pavlik stated that measurement had become the “Holy Grail” of PR.
While in 1994 the International Public Relations Association published the “Gold Paper”, which was an invite for communication practitioners to perform a methodic media analysis and evaluation of their activities.
But the PR professionals still struggle to achieve a consensus on what are the best practices to do so.
3 Obstacles To Proper PR Measurement and Evaluation
Jim Macnamara, a renowned Public Communication expert, found three main problems in the current approach of PR professionals to the Measurement and Evaluation processes.
1. Exaggerated Focus On Numbers
The industry is spending lots of energy on quantitative data collection. But such things as human interactions, relationships, feelings, attitudes, loyalties, perceptions, and engagement can be understood only using a qualitative interpretative research since numbers can describe them in a very superficial way.
Because it requires more time and it doesn’t look so appealing in marketing meetings, many practitioners don’t address qualitative research in the correct dimension.
2. Mixing Up Measurement And Evaluation
These two different processes are often executed as one, generating this way poor results.
In fact, Measurement is the collection and analysis of data, but Evaluation is a human perception, evaluating means judging from a perspective and in a context.
The problem with this confused approach is that the Evaluation process is caged inside the narrow amount of data collected during the measurement.
But a deeper understanding of the value can be achieved only if we use also ignored sources of relevant information like:
- Published research reports
- Case studies
- Historical records
- Published theories and models
3. Looking Only In The Past
Most practitioners perform Measurement and Evaluation as a simple review of what had already happened. Because of that many managers see it as just an exercise performed by PR practitioners to rationalize and justify what they do.
Since most of the time managers and organizations think that they already understand well enough what happened, they don’t want to pay for something they already know.
But wouldn’t they pay for insights about their future? Wouldn’t they pay for something they don’t know?
New Models For PR Measurement
Social Media Measurement
The boom of social media pushed many PR practitioners to track their target audience’s behavior on these platforms.
Now Social Media Measurement has become a core part of all the modern PR analysis models, and it includes four main tasks:
- measuring the organization’s own activities
- measuring the attention that social media brings to the brand
- measuring the awareness of people who’ve interacted with the campaign
- measuring the actions, people take as a result of such interactions
Big data makes possible to measure more effectively any of these aspects, but there is little guidance on what PR metrics makes sense to focus on.
Because of that many practitioners focus especially on “reach” metrics (shares, clicks, site traffic, followers and email list growth) and “engagement” metrics (likes, comments, reviews, time spent on site).
While “reach” metrics are almost always considered just as vanity metrics by the experts, “engagement” metrics are a little bit more relevant because they show a little connection with the audience.
But the most important metrics for a business are always those tied to ROI, actions, and results: number of brand evangelists, conversions, sales revenue, number of leads, leads conversion rate, cost of lead, cost of sale, lifetime value of customers, net profit, etc.
The “reach” and “engagement” metrics are used to complete the first three main tasks of Social Media Measurement.
While the “actions, results, ROI” metrics are used to complete the 4th task of Social Media Measurement, the most important from a business perspective.
How New Models Should Be
New models should include both quantitative (big data) and qualitative (interpretative) analysis.
To achieve better results we also need to take the right time to reflect on the collected information and perform an Evaluation from the perspective of what’s valuable for the client.
That gives us the chance to perform an in-depth analysis that uses contextual information, research literature, databases and case studies.
This way it’s easier to give forward-looking insights that add value to the business (sales, reputation, costs, risks, employee loyalty) and fill the gap between PR and business outcomes.
PR measurement that has to bring concrete business value to the organization should follow these steps:
- Consistent quantitative and qualitative measurement of the impact on the behavior changes throughout a campaign (social media metrics, marketing analytics, interviews, surveys, focus groups, etc.)
- Deep analysis of the data complementing and comparing with external sources (can incorporate market analysis, competitor analysis, business analysis)
- Finding of insights (predictions, suggestions, recommendations) that can help in creating the future PR strategy of the organization
- The last stage should be the Evaluation of the insights after they had been applied. The only way to see what’s their real value is to apply them and see the results.