PR Measurement Doesn’t Lie: It Just Doesn’t Always Tell the Whole Truth

by / Newsroom Ink on 04/30/2011

by Ed Lallo/Newsroom Ink

In a recent  PRSA seminar on measurement led by Shonali Burke, ABC, attendees were informed that there are two kinds of measurement; bad measurement and good measurement. In reality, careful study of best practices shows that measurement numbers are never intended to tell the whole story – only a specific part over a specified period of time.

What is underlying difference between bad and good measurement?

Bad measurement only tracks impression; it uses the AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) standard to evaluate the cost of PR coverage obtained; and the measurement is inconsistent.

On the other hand, good measurement tracks only the important information; has a defined standardized base and is performed consistently; it connects collected information to the goals of the business; and tracks outputs, outtakes and outcomes (information that is retained and can be utilized by the intended audience.)

Measurement professionals are moving clients away from the old dollar for dollar AVE measurement standard, to the new standard of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – which can be easily modified to specified targets.

KPI’s help an organization define and measure progress toward goals set by the organization, once it has analyzed its mission, identified all its stakeholders, and defined its goals.

What are these key performance indicators? Based on quantifiable measurements, agreed to beforehand, they reflect the critical success factors of an organization. These indicators are not standardized, but differ depending on the organization. They are aligned to the key messages of the CEO, executive committee and the brand’s goals.

Like good brand journalism, good measurement must answer the six basic questions: the ‘Who”, “What”, “When’, “Where”, “Why” and “How”.

  • • The “Who” includes the target audiences of media, customers, business partners, employees, governmental agencies and stakeholders.
  • • The “What” is about exposure, brand awareness, brand positioning, market-share and customer education. It also includes: outputs such as speaking engagement and messaging; outtakes that include messaging, understanding and perception the target audience takes away from the campaign; and outcomes that are quantifiable changes in attitude, opinion and behavior occurring as end result of the campaign.
  • • The “When” sets a defined timeframe to compare results to past performances, as well as competitors.
  • • The “Where” is the media channels that are used for the outreach; such as social media tools Facebook and Twitter.
  • • The “Why” is more existential.  A working definition might be – “for every PR action there is equal audience reaction”.  The “why” is used in determining the effectiveness of a campaign.
  • • The “How” are the measurement tools such a website data from Google Analytics and Alexa; phone polling; online polling; surveys; focus groups; media analytics; and phone lines.

The measurement process is all about questions. Questions answered, and those left unanswered. In the end, good measurement must provide answers to the collected data – good or bad. It must also be able to connect the objectives with results, and show how they relate to the strategy of the brand.

PR agencies allocate between five to ten percent of a clients budget toward measurement costs. In the real world of shrinking corporate PR budgets, measurement has become more of a luxury than a standard.

Yet effective measurement monitoring of a campaigns influence, quality, engagement and quantity of response; can be performed effectively even on a limited budget. Measurement tools such as Twitter Search, Google Analytics, Survey Monkey and Alexa; are all cost effective tools to find information on whether the tactics and strategy of your story is reaching the intended audience. For companies with a limited measurement budget, options include Csion and Radian 6.

No matter how a campaigned is measured, one fact remains – the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

The PRSA measurement seminar included an example of the measurement of an Oklahoma City jeweler’s campaign over a six-year period from 2004 to 2010.

The store effectively moved from ad-based customer outreach to a social media outreach, using Facebook and Twitter. It reduced ad costs, while at the same time increasing store foot traffic and revenues. In every aspect the numbers showed that they did everything right, and the campaign was a huge success.

However, what the numbers didn’t show may leave lingering questions.

The economy of Oklahoma City, where the jeweler was located, revolves around oil and gas. At a time the rest of the country was mired in a recession, OKC was barely affected. What if the jeweler did not embrace social media, and instead continued with heavy ad spending – would the numbers still indicate the same increase, or perhaps even more? What if this jeweler was located in Detroit where the economy had crumbled – would the social media campaign numbers remain the same? The answers are “of course not”.

Measurement numbers will always lie to some extent, because it is impossible to enter every factor into a measurement equation.   This is not to say measurement should not be done, on the contrary, it should be done often…but always taken with a small pinch of salt.

The use of an online newsroom as the “landing page” for social media gives you accurate monthly measurement at a cost-effective price. Content on the newsroom does not fade out of sight within hours, if not minutes, like Twitter and Facebook.  It gives accurate tracking numbers daily, weekly, and monthly.   The newsroom is searchable, and most importantly gives a permanent home for readers to learn, share and become involved with your brand.

Perhaps the most important tool measurement professionals fail to utilize is the same tool journalists use every day while conducting interviews and writing stories – the “gut feeling”.

Is a campaign reaching the intended audience, with the desired outcome? If it is being talked about around the water cooler, over drinks at a bar or on social media; then you are doing something right. If not, then it might be time to start over because – “in your gut, you know it’s just nuts.”


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  1. Trish says:

    Great way to frame social media measurement – “…good measurement must answer the six basic questions: the ‘Who”, “What”, “When’, “Where”, “Why” and “How.”

    Thanks for giving us a mention!

    All the best,
    Trish (@Dayngr)
    Community Manager | Radian6

  2. Thanks for sharing the webinar. And no, numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but I don’t know if there are any numbers that do tell the whole story. The important thing is to understand the context, isn’t it?

  3. The most important part of any measurement plan is to make the data actionable. What is the point of measuring at all if it doesn’t lead to improvements in the program. Measuring to justify your existence is usually where things get fuzzy, measuring to make improvements in our work should be the common goal of both client and agency.

  4. Aimee Stern says:

    I have never thought the impressions measurement was useful (they can be inflated, they are based on antiquated readership figures, and they don’t really tell you anything). There are still a lot of people measuring social media value by how many Facebook fans you have or Twitter followers, etc.

    In my opinion, the two measurement systems that work are are based around engagement and action.

    Engagement

    OK so you have a PR campaign running on Facebook. You’ve managed to gather 5,000 plus fans in a couple of months. How many of them are coming and reading the material that you are posting and how regularly? What are information is driving the discussions on your site? You can have a million Twitter followers but are any of them actually paying attention on a regular basis to what you are saying. Are they retweeting you. Are they even reading your tweets? All of this is measurable.

    For example, we did a campaign last year with a broadcasting partner to get the word out about an event. They had something like 400,000 Facebook fans, many of whom were discussing posts on a regular basis, retweeting them and going from Facebook to the event web site. Twitter on the other hand, wasn’t anywhere near as valuable because the numbers were lower and the engagement was negligible.

    In the evaluation and education world, you measure student’s knowledge of a subject based upon your learning goals before and after it is taught. This gives you a pretty good idea of what they’re learning and how they’re responding to it. Advertising agencies will do the same thing.

    You can also track through free tools like Google Analytics how many people went from your press release on Business Wire, PR Newswire, Facebook, etc. and actually clicked through to your web site. These numbers are far lower than what you normally get in terms of where your release was picked up (but those are pre-set contracts and it’s not a very good predictor of whether or not you are getting people to take action. From there you can track how much time they spent, what parts of the web site they visited and even what they bought or signed up for. Those are really valuable measures.

    As PR gets more and more and sophisticated, and more measurable, it needs to measure much the way marketing does. With clearcut results based on pre-set goals. That’s where we all should be.

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