Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Deirdre Breakenridge Interview: How to Show PR’s Value, and The Magic of Messaging Scores

Deirdre K. Breakenridge is Chief Executive Officer at Pure Performance Communications. A veteran in PR, marketing and branding, Breakenridge has worked with organizations including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, JVC, Kraft, Nasdaq, NBA and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Breakenridge is the author of six business books and an adjunct professor, teaching online PR and social media courses for the UMASS at Amherst Journalism Department and for Rutgers University’s PR Certificate course.

—The Measurement Standard: Welcome to our Measurement Life interview Deirdre! We are so thrilled to have you join us for this chat. First, let’s learn a little about you: What led you to a career in public relations work?

Thank you. It’s great to be participating in your Measurement Life Interview.

When I was in high school, I loved to write. After I won the WOR Radio essay contest, my guidance counselor suggested I go into a career focused on writing. First, he mentioned journalism and then public relations. I had never heard of PR before. When he shared how PR professionals concentrated on storytelling, worked with the media and communicated on behalf of organizations, I chose to major in communications, specializing in Public Relations. From the time I graduated until now, PR has been a passion and one of the most gratifying parts of my career.

—TMS: As a university professor, what path—or paths—do you recommend for today’s PR students?

Many students ask me about different types of positions in public relations. The rise of social media, advancing technologies, and an evolving media landscape have created many new opportunities. Where there is change, there is an expansion for the professionals who are willing to get out of their comfort zones. When you are in public relations, your role goes beyond building relationships and securing editorial coverage with traditional media outlets. Today, every company is a media company, and there are influencers and bloggers in every industry driving consumers to action. I look at PR as bridge builders to many different groups. Through strategic communication and interpreting public perception, we’re able to engage in meaningful ways. As storytellers, we’re also using a mix of media (not just earned media) to reach company stakeholders and engaging with them to build brand loyalty and customer advocacy.

I also remind students how a career in public relations today means applying both the art and the science of the profession. For instance, creative storytelling is at the heart of what we do. Excellent writing skills for different channels, including social media, are still critical. However, more companies are hiring PR professionals experienced in art direction and with hands-on design skills too. We’re also seeing the need for more professionals who can roll up their sleeves as PR data engineers, who can capture and analyze data to understand essential trends over time and changes in media consumption and audience behavior.

Social media and other new technologies have PR professionals focused on digital strategy, content marketing, and social media community management roles too.  We’ve seen leading digital PR agencies employ knowledge managers and innovation officers, which speaks to the expansion of information, growth, and innovation in our field.

As technology advances, media and storytelling change and so does the role of the PR professional … all for the better!

If you always connect PR to the higher level business buckets, whether it’s sales and revenue, brand health or customer satisfaction, which make the business run and profit, then leadership takes notice.

—TMS: What’s so special about measurement and evaluation? What attracted you to this particular component of public relations work?

Why bother communicating, if you’re not measuring and then determining the impact. I’m hearing less and less the complaint that “PR is intangible” and “you can’t measure the value of building a relationship.” Today, through data and measurement you can evaluate the behavior and engagement that lead to loyalty and advocacy.

Of course, measurement and evaluation have to be considered early on, before you roll out with your campaigns. But, PR professionals must be more curious and ask the question, Why? Over and over again. It’s fascinating, and sometimes challenging, at the same time, to get to the root of what an organization is trying to achieve. Once you do, you’re able to build the measurement program with the right benchmarks that show how they’re reaching their goals. Along the way, you’re also likely to uncover and solve some of their most significant communication challenges.

If you always connect PR to the higher level business buckets, whether it’s sales and revenue, brand health or customer satisfaction, which make the business run and profit, then leadership takes notice. I’ve always been an advocate for proving the PR tangibles. The professionals who connect their communication programs to business outcomes get recognized more quickly.

—TMS: You’ve written a number of books on PR topics, and have plenty of on-the-ground experience with using measurement and evaluation to further business goals. How are PR practitioners adopting the art and craft of measurement and evaluation, and further translating that into business objectives?

In my book, Answers for Modern Communicators, there is a section devoted to questions on measurement. There are always questions about PR and business outcomes. How do you show real value or impact? How do you make the CFO of your company your best friend? You must have an interest in the business and understand the higher level goals and objectives of the organization. Do you know what keeps the executives up at night? Because if you do, then you will be able to connect your communication programs and work on solving those challenges. You become visible when you become a part of the solution. Suddenly you’re seen as a part of the profit center rather than PR just being a cost center for the company.

Through data and measurement, professionals can use correlation to tie public relations to company revenue, marketing optimization, customer satisfaction, and innovation. But, this requires getting out of your department silo and working cross-functionally with other areas (sharing knowledge and data) to help the company reach its goals and become a part of the larger business picture.

When you can show how the data comes together and your efforts are a part of a larger business picture, along with other marketing and sales initiatives in your company, then executives will see your value.

—TMS: When a client asks a PR practitioner to do measurement or evaluation in a way that is known to be misguided, how do you recommend they handle it—particularly if they are not yet senior-level employees? Do you ever hear from any of your past students that this is an issue for them?

New media means new measurement. Many executives may be relying on older, unacceptable standards (yes, this means AVEs) and not seeing better ways to measure. I advise clients [and students] to show examples of different measurement that is meaningful. For example, you don’t have to look at hits and impressions when you can track performance data to show what happens after your audience sees a piece of content (paid, earned, shared and owned). You don’t have to deliver AVE’s when you can show from click to conversion how you were a part of the lead generation for your company.

For example, website traffic generated as a result of earned media is one way to see an outcome of your communication effort. But don’t stop there when you can be evaluating deeper interactions with your customers. What did people do on your website as a result of reading that Forbes story? Did they download something or give you their contact information when they registered for a new program? Or, perhaps they shared contact information to receive your weekly newsletter. Now, you’re able to keep in touch and involve them in additional marketing programs.

There’s also search engine and CRM data, as well as sales data that can help you to visualize a bigger picture of your customer’s journey through paid, owned and shared media too. Because we use different media channels today, we must also measure a mix of media too.

When you can show how the data comes together and your efforts are a part of a larger business picture, along with other marketing and sales initiatives in your company, then executives will see your value.

—TMS: What are your favorite measurement tools or projects?

Google Analytics has been a game changer for PR professionals. I’ve said in the past, “Google is a PR person’s best friend.” With Google Analytics you can dive into the behavior of your customers and other stakeholders on your website. You can understand what your customers want from you based on how they act and what is of interest to them. Paying attention to how they enter your site (from what sources), how long they stay on a page, what they do on that page, and how they navigate your site or if they bounce right off can tell you a lot.

You can set up campaigns in Google Analytics with goals and track how different areas of your site are performing based on your communication and outreach programs. Google Analytics shows you if you’re driving audiences to find additional information and giving them a reason to interact with you in more meaningful ways.

As long as you know what goals you’re trying to achieve and your objectives are quantified and benchmarked over time, there is no shortage of data and metrics to track.

—TMS: In your estimation, where are measurement and evaluation going? What great strides do you see in your crystal ball—and where does the PR industry need to do more to advance broader adoption of measurement as a regular part of PR practice?

We’ve come a long way in measurement. I remember walking into boardrooms for national brand campaigns and dropping a big clipbook on the conference room table. Thump! The louder the thump, the more successful you were in the eyes of the executives sitting around the table.

Today, we have access to quantitative and qualitative data. However, you always have to set up the right expectations. As long as you know what goals you’re trying to achieve and your objectives are quantified and benchmarked over time, there is no shortage of data and metrics to track. Of course, it’s not just about measuring the outcome of your campaign, but you’re also using data to project forward and to understand how you can communicate effectively with different stakeholders.

Capturing, filtering and analyzing data helps communication professionals to uncover exciting media trends and to be ahead of the curve rather than discussing something after the fact. With data you can better understand what drives consumer behavior, how to enhance your products and also be more creative and on-point when sharing compelling stories; whether it’s with the media, bloggers, or your customers.

—TMS: If you could invent one magical measurement or evaluation tool to accomplish anything, what would it be?

PR and communication professionals do a lot of research and work diligently to formulate the appropriate messages for their companies and their campaigns. You’re also working with executives on talking points for their interviews and what messages are going out through all of your communication materials. But, do you know if all of your hard work has paid off?

Tracking to see if those messages resonate still requires considerable legwork. Right up there with Share of Voice and Share of Conversation, it’s important to know if your news reached the right audiences, with the your planned messaging, through your preferred channels and what your audience did as a result. However, there’s no one, easy way to see if your messages were prominently positioned in editorial coverage, in the form you intended, with the most influential media driving significant consumer action.

One simple “Messaging Score” automatically factoring in the weight of different media outlets, the weight of the message and the weight of the customer actions taken would be a magical measurement.

—TMS: I want to thank you for spending time with us Deirdre, it has been an honor and a pleasure to learn more about you.

The Measurement Standard

The Measurement Standard

The Measurement Standard (TMS) is the definitive monthly newsletter dedicated to advancing media measurement and evaluation as a vital business and communication tool.TMS is published by CARMA, a global provider of measurement services.
The Measurement Standard
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