Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

PR Measurement Must Improve, But Marketing Doesn’t Have All the Answers


How often has the public relations industry been told that it needs to follow the lead of the marketing department and get PR measurement right? It’s an argument that gets perpetrated on a never-ending basis.

Kevin Akeroyd, CEO of Cision, recently blasted practitioners with just such an argument in an interview with PRMoment: “PR still deals in PR vanity metrics, whereas paid and owned show up with hard numbers, hard conversion rates and hard revenue impact.”

And my friend Gini Dietrich recently wrote a piece at Spin Sucks that argued that communicators “look like a bunch of loons” with convoluted efforts to develop twisted metrics, and claimed that “All of our marketing brethren have figured out how to measure their efforts to real business results.”

Now, there’s no argument that the PR industry has room to improve when it comes to measurement. Far too few organizations rigorously analyze their media results at all, let alone relating them to business outcomes. The ongoing battle against ad value equivalents (AVEs) that received renewed attention at the recent annual AMEC conference underscores the need for improved standards.

But do we give our marketing friends too much credit?

They certainly have more direct access to a wider range of data that enables measuring the impact of some marketing activities on some sales. But the “some” part here deserves further attention.

Plenty of marketers tout meaningless metrics. Even the vaunted “cost per click” that digital advertisers tout really tells us nothing about the quality of those clicks. And while attribution tools and models do enable many of those clicks to be tracked downstream, that works reliably only for businesses that conduct a significant portion of their business activity in the digital realm. So an e-commerce seller can judge ROI here better than a consumer products business or a consulting firm.

And while many digital evangelists like to proclaim the death of traditional print and broadcast advertising, many billions of dollars still get spent on them. Yet our advertising friends often do relatively little to quantify the outcome of those efforts.

After all, measuring the success of an ad campaign by talking about how much was spent on the ad campaign is just plain silly. Yet PR folks have been conned into believing that the amount spent on advertising is a valid metric and so converting a news story to an ad value equivalent actually makes sense.

Even some marketers admit they don’t do a very good job of measuring. Rebecca Lee White notes that a CMO.com study found that “only 23 percent of marketing leaders say their organization does ‘extremely well’ or ‘quite well’ in measuring and communicating the business value and financial contributions resulting from their campaigns and investments.”

Rather than touting marketing as the model for public relations to follow, we ought to work together as communicators to build stronger bonds with our sales and finance teams to improve metrics across the board. Success will require breaking down historical barriers between operations/sales/finance and the communications teams, but it also requires creative thinking about how to demonstrate the relationships that drive business outcomes.

The problem for communicators of all kinds is that measuring upstream data is relatively easy. Number of articles, total ad spend, banner ad clicks, and other similar information lies close at hand. It can be obtained through accessible internal tools or straightforward relationships with outside partners and vendors. Digging deeper and going downstream with the data flow requires more cooperation, more sophistication, and more resources. The insights are there, they just require a bit more work to obtain.

So the next time you hear someone tell you that marketing has it all figured out and PR measurement should follow along, push back. Challenge that false thinking. And then challenge yourself to work with your marketing colleagues to figure out how to improve communications analytics across the board.

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