Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

PR Measurement in the Spotlight at the 2016 PRSA International Conference


The recent PRSA International Conference held in Indianapolis contained lots of great content focused on public relations measurement and media analysis. The sheer volume of presentations on the topic underscored just how important this vital practice is to communications—and just how much we all need to learn.

One of the speakers noted that “we have been having the same conversation about measurement for at least two decades.” This highlights the obligation of those of us who provide measurement products and services to do a better job of educating PR professionals and making the tools and data required more accessible.

Design data analysis to suit your audience

deirdre-breakenridge-thumbA powerful theme throughout the talks was that all analysis should be designed with the ultimate audience in mind. Deidre Breakenridge of Pure Performance Communications told practitioners that “when you are creating a PR measurement dashboard, know who you are reporting to.”

allyson-hugley-thumbA fellow panelist, Allyson Hugley of Weber Shandwick, reminded listeners that “what the c-suite cares about is change.” In other words, if the reports and data don’t lead to change, why do it?

We have moved beyond the days when the “thud factor” of clipbooks was enough to impress bosses, boards, and buyers. Today, better techniques and more powerful technology enable more meaningful reporting that generates insights that matter.

johna_burke2-2Johna Burke of BurrellesLuce explained that “the best PR measurement tool we have is our brain.”
Mindless measurement just for the sake of saying you did it leads nowhere. We need to carefully consider and plan our analysis efforts so that they produce valuable insights.
richard-bagnallFor Richard Bagnall of Prime Research UK, that means not getting stuck on outputs, but focusing instead on outtakes and outcomes. That’s one of those messages you hear quite often in measurement conversations, but it remains too convenient for agencies and practitioners to fall back on easy-to-access output numbers.

Measure more than just media

When it comes to measurement, PR practitioners shouldn’t think just about the media. In fact, one powerful tool that often goes underutilized in communications campaigns is original research. Using surveys of stakeholders and the public can generate the kind of intelligence that means the difference between a successful outreach effort and one that languishes by failing to hit the target with the right messaging at the right time.

jerry-johnson-1Jerry Johnson of Brodeur Partners delivered a compelling presentation on survey research to wrap up the final day of the conference.
The fact that the room was packed—standing room only—demonstrated just how hungry the PR industry is to learn more about this useful practice. Johnson didn’t disappoint, explaining in concrete terms how to use the data effectively—and just how affordable it has become to acquire valid survey results.

Learn the language of marketing

It was impossible for any attendee to walk away from this year’s PRSA International Conference without having at least some exposure to PR measurement and media analysis. Every year, new approaches are explained and best practices are shared. And we continue to grow and improve as an industry at finding ways to generate meaningful insights.

But perhaps the most meaningful piece of advice came from Weber Shandwick’s Hugley who urged PR pros to “learn the language of marketing” and collaborate more closely with their marketing colleagues. This is great advice, as the lines between the two practices continue to blur and responsibility becomes increasingly shared. Marketers have spent decades perfecting their reporting systems, and there’s no reason that PR should find itself playing second fiddle when it comes to measurement.


(The Scott Stratten keynote photo is used with permission of the photographer.)

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