The other day, a friend who works in-house mentioned that her agency recommended disregarding industry measurement benchmarks in favour of comparing post metrics against prior post performance for similar milestones or campaigns. An agency veteran herself, she knew that didn’t seem quite right, and asked for a second opinion.

Here’s the thing – industry benchmarks, competitive comparisons and even your own company’s progress against itself, doesn’t matter if it’s outside the context of the campaign’s goals. We’re not talking about randomly set key performance indicator (KPI) targets i.e. likes, shares, coverage volume, etc. Goals should never be KPIs, they should focus on a specific perceptual or behavioural change amongst a target audience to advance a business objective.

Ten years ago, this type of measurement would have been pretty tricky due to the paucity of data and the expense to acquire it, but now data – especially social media data – is super cheap. Furthermore, there’s more affordable ways (even for those on a shoe string budget) to survey your target audience to capture a baseline to measure against.

Seems simple, right? So why are so many agency-side and in-house PR pros completely flummoxed by measurement?


Measurement remains a challenge for PR pros

According to Muck Rack’s State of PR 2019 report, measurement remains PR pros’ biggest challenge with 72% of respondents struggling to measure the business impact of campaigns and 65% saying they lack quantifiable metrics to measure.

It was clearly time to consult the ultimate measurement guru, David Rockland, PhD, prior Ketchum Partner, and past Chairman of the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. David is not your average PR measurement executive, he led the development of the immutable Barcelona Principles, our industry’s global gold standard for measurement.

Over the din of a noisy New York City diner and a cup of coffee that never seemed to empty, he explained, the measurement industry didn’t do itself any favours as selling itself as a way for PR pros to prove their worth to clients and for clients in turn to prove their worth within organisations. And, because of that people began to associate measurement with CYA (cover your a**) reason to exist. Sure, it’s great to see how we did, but it’s really better to know what we’re going to do next and how we’re going get better at what we do — it’s a shift in mindset, he emphasised.

David is passionate that the key to great measurement is extremely simple: set specific goals and use common sense to measure them.


Get better at goal-setting

We’ve all heard the acronym SMART thrown around before and it was George T Doran that published this goal setting approach in the journal, Management Review in 1981; however, it couldn’t be more relevant almost 40 years later. Goals must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

According to David, “You can’t measure if you don’t have good goals. So, when a client says ‘I want to measure and be better at measurement,’ the first thing is to get better at goal-setting. And if you can get goal-setting figured out, then the measurement just flows off it. But if you can’t get goal-setting figured out, then you might as well not bother measuring. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you even know you got there?”

David continues, “Most importantly, goals need to be set in a way that connects communications to the reason the company exists in the first place. In other words, what are they trying to do? What are they trying to sell? What business metrics are important to them? Customer loyalty, retention, sales, earnings per share, or do they just want a great reputation as a thought leader?”

Once the goals are set, David advises to focus on collecting information that facilitates connections between what communicators do and what the company wants to achieve.

Thus, having a million jillion likes, impressions, or a pile of media coverage doesn’t mean anything if it hasn’t indicated a perceptual shift or behavioural change from baseline within the audience being targeted.


3 levels of common-sense metrics

This is where the common sense comes in. David recommends forgetting words like “impressions” that don’t mean anything to anyone.

Instead focus on these three levels of common-sense metrics:

      1. How loud were you? How big was your voice? Did you get the word out?
      1. Did anyone actually hear you? Did you reach the people you were trying to get to? You may have made a tremendous amount of noise, but if you didn’t reach the right people, then you didn’t hit level 2.
      1. If you reached the people you cared about, did they reply? Did they engage? Did their beliefs shift? Did their behaviour change?

Sure, clients demand shiny dashboards of vanity metrics and agencies love selling them, but it’s only because company executives are demanding data to see where their money is going. Yes, PR is tricky to measure, but that’s no excuse. According to Muck Rack’s report, 88% of us still rely on traditional metrics with less than a third linking PR results back to sales. It’s no wonder that executives who don’t understand the power of PR, often favour marketing which generates clearer return on investment (ROI) metrics.

It’s our duty as PR pros to show company leadership that measurement is a valuable tool to both refine campaigns (always preferable to fail fast and cheap) and track our discipline’s contribution to the advancement of the business’ objectives alongside marketing and sales.