Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Using the Tools of PR Measurement to Evaluate PR Strategy


The text and slideshow below summarize a presentation by Alan Kelly and Bill Paarlberg at the 2015 IPR Measurement Summit. This presentation introduced a method for the evaluation of public relations strategy, based on work by David Geddes that builds on Alan Kelly’s Playmaker System. Alan Kelly is Founder & Chief Executive of Playmaker Systems, LLC. Bill Paarlberg is Editor of The Measurement Standard. David Geddes Ph.D., is a consultant specializing in business analytics and research. He is a member and past chair of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation.

Good morning everyone. Very nice to see you all. We’re here today to introduce an exciting avenue for identifying and evaluating strategy in PR and business. My name is Bill Paarlberg, and I’m going to very simply present the concept. Then I’ll turn things over to the strategy expert, Alan Kelly, and his slideshow that describes his Playmaker System.

If you read The Measurement Standard newsletter, you may recall that Alan and David had a bit of a debate there. After some minor yelling and screaming, it turned out that they really had a lot in common. And they especially saw eye-to-eye about the possibility of evaluating PR and business strategy using the typical tools of PR measurement.

Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if the PR and communications measurement industry had the ability to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of PR strategy.

PR longs to manipulate not just eyeballs, opinion, and engagement. It wants to manipulate the planning and positioning of a company or brand so as to affect its position in the marketplace and its bottom line. This planning and positioning is business strategy. And PR people would like to be able to advise and consult and influence this strategy.

Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if the PR and communications measurement industry had the ability to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of PR strategy. Imagine if measurement and evaluation services routinely included “outputs, outtakes, outcomes, and strategy.”

What new avenues of research would be open to us? What new fields of operation, of opportunity, and of influence would open up for our industry, and for PR as a whole? If we had the straightforward ability to identify and evaluate the use of strategy, it would launch us from outputs, outtakes, and outcomes into the world of planning, positioning, and competition.

Before we can evaluate the effectiveness of strategy, we need to define it carefully and specifically.

Defining strategy can be a confusing thing. What we mean by “strategy” here today is a maneuver in order to gain some advantage. A stratagem. We do not mean “Our PR strategy is a product launch.” Or “Our strategy is to get more engagement.”

Before we can evaluate the effectiveness of strategy, we need to define it carefully and specifically. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some system that broke down strategy into its defining elements? So that we could readily identify specific, discrete units of strategy, and then study them individually. That’s where Alan’s system comes in. And we are going to hear from him in a moment.

First, as an example, let’s consider one of Alan’s basic strategies—one of 24 stratagems he calls “plays”—the Red Herring. This is a simple case in point that David Geddes introduced in The Measurement Standard, and it serves to illustrate the concept.

What’s a Red Herring? A Red Herring is a strategy of distraction. Consider Company X, which had planned a big new product for next year, but is not going to make the launch date. What do they do to distract the market from their failure to deliver as promised? They cook up a piece of vaporware called Product X35, “a global, scalable, best-in-class enterprise solution,” and allegedly the most amazing thing since sliced bread.

The goal of Company X’s Red Herring is to turn attention way from its own vulnerabilities. How might the success of this play be evaluated with everyday measurement tools? Here are some possibilities:

  1. Measure trends in traditional and social media of (i) messages about Company X’s vulnerabilities and (ii) erroneous, distracting messages. If the Red Herring is working, the ratio of the latter should increase relative to the former.
  2. Measure the engagement of target audiences with the erroneous messages, for example, through visits to a company webpage, downloads of position papers, tweets, retweets, blog posts, and comments on blog posts.
  3. Measure the cognitive change that is occurring if the Red Herring is successful. This measurement can be conducted through an appropriate polling or survey method.

That’s the concept in a nutshell: PR and business strategies can be identified with Alan Kelly’s system, and then evaluated with typical measurement tools. Now it’s time to hear from Alan Kelly, here’s the slideshow he presented at the Summit:

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Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly

Alan Kelly is a visionary strategist, author, professor, political analyst, and award-winning Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He is Founder and Executive Director of Playmaker Systems, LLC, a strategy and simulations firm. The company’s services are based on a breakthrough decision system for communications, social media, marketing, sales and military intelligence professionals. Its clients include Abbott, Bayer, Dell, HP, Intel, Royal Dutch Shell, SAP, the U.S. Department of Defense, and VMware. Email Alan Kelly, call 301-654-6500, or follow him on Twitter @playmakeralan.
Alan Kelly
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