Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Re-Brand: It’s Time to Stop Calling PR Measurement “Measurement”


One of the problems with public relations measurement is the outdated term “measurement.” Today almost anyone who “measures” their PR or communications is actually undertaking a complex process of developing metrics, gathering and analyzing data, comparing results to objectives, and generating insights. By continuing to call this sophisticated endeavor “measurement” we do not adequately describe it, and thereby shortchange our profession and confuse communication about what we do.

Consider, for example, Briana Severson’s apparent ignorance in her recent article “Debunking the Myth of PR Metrics.” She begins with: “If anyone tells you they have the key to measuring PR, they’re either lying or they’re wrong.” Despite this offensively offensive opening (Katie Paine is among those who rose to the bait), the article actually makes an argument most of us would agree with, encouraging analysis and critical thinking over adherence to simplistic numbers. Ms. Severson’s misunderstanding is more about the meaning of “measurement” than about whether or not it can be done. She thinks measurement means “using metrics without thinking,” whereas those of us in the profession have a far different understanding.

There must be thousands of other people confused by the term “measurement.” At least in other parts of the world they call it “evaluation.” Far more descriptive, if still a bit shy of encompassing the entire process.

What does “measurement” really mean today? David Geddes, a member and former chair of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission, likes to call it “measurement, evaluation, and research.” He says: “I dislike use of the term ‘measurement’ as a stand-alone. The sophisticated organization employs research, measurement, and evaluation as a continuous process, and as a feedback cycle to develop strategy, monitor strategy and tactics on an ongoing basis, and revise strategy, tactics, and communications content over time. ‘Measurement’ becomes very transactional, and separates from the overall organizational objectives.”

It’s time to re-brand our field. “Measurement” is now a relic of a less sophisticated past , and a name that holds us back. The sooner we recognize that we do sophisticated social science research, the sooner other people take us more seriously. And the sooner we get more serious about how we do it.

Read more on this topic:


Thanks to theartfloozy on Etsy for the image.

Bill Paarlberg
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Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg co-founded The Measurement Standard in 2002 and was its editor until July 2017. He also edits The Measurement Advisor newsletter. He is editor of the award-winning "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, and editor of two other books on measurement by Katie Paine, "Measure What Matters" and "Measuring Public Relationships." Visit Bill Paarlberg's page on LinkedIn.
Bill Paarlberg
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    1. The Measurement Standard

      Ha! Good point, Jim. We could become “The Measurement, Evaluation, and Research Standard,” I guess. But it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
      You know, back more than a dozen years ago, when Katie Paine and I started this newsletter, we (and most measurement experts as well) used the term “measurement” to refer to the complex process mentioned above. The field was then small enough so that most who were involved seemed to know the term’s meanings and limitations. Today the field has grown immensely, and I get the feeling that some newcomers assume that “measurement” is what we know it isn’t.

  1. Philip Sheldrake (@Sheldrake)

    Thanks Bill. This is how I set this issue out in Chapter 6 of The Business of Influence:
    Management and measurement are inseparable. Things that get measured get done, or, to change the emphasis subtly and probably more accurately, people perform as they are measured. In other words, measurement isn’t some passive eye taking it all in and reporting back to the brain; it is an active, dynamic management tool as well as a feedback mechanism. It is also, from my experience in engineering, manufacturing, software, marketing and PR, one of the least well understood, neglected and, not uncommonly, misused aspects of management.

    Some definitions:

    Measurement – the action of measuring something; ascertaining the size, amount, or degree of something by using an instrument or device; assessing the importance, effect, or value of something.

    Evaluation – the making of a judgement about the amount, number, or value of something.

    Metric – a system or standard of measurement; (in business) a set of figures or statistics that measure results.

    You may have heard the phrase ‘measurement and evaluation’ bandied around; well it appears that ‘evaluation’ doesn’t really add any meaning that ‘measurement’ doesn’t convey alone. Rather than consider it redundant however, I like to think that ‘evaluation’ takes the qualitative role, leaving ‘measurement’ to focus on the quantitative aspects. Measurement and evaluation – quantitative and qualitative.

    To my mind, the conversation you describe here is best summarised by that one word in the definition of evaluation – judgement. Therein lies the professional expertise.

    For its part, the CIPR does not offer measurement guidance singularly to its members, but specifically Research, Planning and Measurement. One cannot regard them separately.

    Lately, I’ve begun to explore ‘sensing’ as a critical property of the organisational fabric. Measurement and sensing are different. Measurement is an action – intentional, purposive, subjectively meaningful. Sensing is behavioural – automatic and reflexive. More on my blog:

  2. The Measurement Standard

    Thank you Philip. Measurement _does_ mean so much more than its basic definition.

    I especially like your point about judgement. Our profession would benefit from emphasizing that expertise. Thereby getting away from the simplistic decisions that “measurement” implies to too many.

  3. Philip Odiakose

    Good one Bill, I can’t agree more.

    I hope to wake up to see the “themeasurementstandard” change to “The Media or PR MeasurementStandard”. Good read.

  4. Pingback: PARA ALÉM DA MENSURAÇÃO EM COMUNICAÇÃO - Cristina Panella

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