ANALYSIS: Measurement Standards - Will Nielsen score in standards crusade? When a company like Nielsen enters the PR measurement race, people stand up and take notice. But can the research titan do any better at solving the industry’s most vexing

Last week’s splash that Nielsen Media Research has agreed to share its coveted demographic measurement data with Porter Novelli generated substantially more buzz than your average industry revelation. Why? In announcing it, the agency trumpeted the magic words guaranteed to get the research folks in a tizzy: Holy Grail.

Last week’s splash that Nielsen Media Research has agreed to share its coveted demographic measurement data with Porter Novelli generated substantially more buzz than your average industry revelation. Why? In announcing it, the agency trumpeted the magic words guaranteed to get the research folks in a tizzy: Holy Grail.

Last week’s splash that Nielsen Media Research has agreed to share

its coveted demographic measurement data with Porter Novelli generated

substantially more buzz than your average industry revelation. Why? In

announcing it, the agency trumpeted the magic words guaranteed to get

the research folks in a tizzy: Holy Grail.



Predictably, the industry got itself all a-twitter - a reaction as

inevitable and stale as the ’Holy Grail’ analogy itself. The drill is a

familiar one: PR industry needs better measurement tool, announcement

about new tool gets everyone excited, tool proves to be more sizzle than

steak.



Yet both PN and Nielsen hyped the arrangement with the zeal of eager

young Lancelots, leading some observers to believe that this one might

be different.



In theory, here’s how it works: Nielsen will provide complete

statistical breakdowns of its socioeconomic data to PN. The agency, in

turn, will use this information to plan new programs, tweak existing

ones and monitor success.



Most applauded the additions to the measurement mix of both an objective

criteria and a highly regarded player. The plaudits took the well-worn

’any new tool is good news’ tact. To wit: ’Any type of measured data

that a PR firm can gather is going to be valuable,’ says Rick Smith of

News USA, a media placement and distribution company. Adds Council of PR

firms prexy Jack Bergen, ’If what they’re trying to do is understand

audiences and what reaches them, that’s the key to strategic PR.’





Non-exclusive deal



Almost every party hailed PN for not making exclusivity a deal-breaker

in its negotiations with Nielsen. ’Exclusive measurements are bad,’ says

Bergen. ’They make it impossible to put an across-the-board analytical

tool together. An outside observer would say, ’There’s no unity here,

there’s no science here,’ ’



The problems that have prompted the search for measurement nirvana are

nothing new: criteria such as gross impressions and the unequivocally

nebulous notion of ’publicity’ don’t do enough to let agencies or

clients judge the success of a given PR campaign. While many firms base

the success of a marketing program on a quantifiable business objective

(such as increased stock price or sales), few of these programs are

PR-only, making it impossible to determine their full impact.



Clearly, there’s a lot to like about the PN/Nielsen agreement. The

industry obviously has nothing to lose by opening its arms to a company

of Nielsen’s stature. Additionally, just about any objective means of

measuring the influence of PR will likely be an improvement over the

primitive techniques currently being employed.



Still, several questions remain about the nuances of the PN/Nielsen

arrangement; specifically, about whether it is as far-reaching and

revolutionary as the two parties seem to believe.



First of all, why didn’t it happen any sooner? It is understandable, of

course, why Nielsen didn’t feel the need to approach PR firms: business

was good and, according to VP Clay Herrick, the company ’didn’t

understand the PR business. We didn’t know how they would use our

information.’ He’s not alone there - just another case of the industry

failing to educate others about its value.



Yet despite its dire need to find a reliable means of measurement, the

PR industry has never viewed Nielsen as a potential partner. Whether

this stems from feelings of inadequacy spurred by Nielsen’s tight ties

with advertisers and ad firms or controversy about the methodology and

its potential application is a moot point; PR never stepped up to the

plate.



What makes this even more baffling is that, in the interim, the industry

has essentially been trying to reinvent the wheel. As

Burson-Marsteller’s chief knowledge officer Leslie Gaines-Ross puts it,

’It’s a lot easier to find something that exists than to develop

something totally new and different, which is what a lot of people have

been trying to do for years.’





Limited scope



The limited scope of the agreement also raises some concerns. PN points

to the consumer and healthcare sectors, as well as to the firm’s

anti-tobacco and youth marketing efforts, as areas that will potentially

benefit from the influx of Nielsen data. This is hard to dispute, as

compiling information about the cable TV shows and networks (outside of

obvious targets like MTV) venerated by teens will clearly help PN find

the best placements for its clients.



But Nielsen confines its research to cable and broadcast outlets, which

occupy only a small corner of the PR placement universe. Additionally,

it’s difficult to imagine the relevance of Nielsen data for several

types of PR programs, such as business-to-business ones. And while

Porter Novelli speaks enthusiastically about using the information to

find the most admired TV performers within a given demographic, who will

then be hired as spokespeople for healthcare and pharmaceutical clients,

this scheme may be a bit simplistic, according to Ogilvy managing

director and head of research David Michaelson: ’Demographic information

doesn’t factor in the environment.’



Bergen, who used to head corporate communications at CBS, adds, ’The

Nielsen data only goes so far. It describes the demographic, but doesn’t

say whether the demographic is valuable. It’s a sledgehammer kind of

analysis.’



Finally, several sources question whether the Nielsen data is as

proprietary as PN - and Nielsen itself - seem to think. One firm claims

to have been securing the information through a sister advertising

company, while another says her agency regularly requests and receives

the information from the networks themselves. Does this in itself

devalue PN’s arrangement? Of course not. But if other agencies have

truly been using the information for years, their continuing quest for

measurement bliss essentially means that the Nielsen data has only

limited use.





Wait and see



As for whether other PR agencies will pursue similar agreements with

Nielsen, most seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach. Ogilvy’s

Michaelson says his firm would ’investigate’ a possible Nielsen

affiliation, and other industry players are similarly non-committal. ’If

they (PN and Nielsen) fall on their face, then we’ll all shake our heads

and say, ’The idea was flawed from the beginning,’ ’ one source quips.

’If they don’t, then we’ll all have handshake agreements with Nielsen

within a few weeks.’



In the end, perhaps the search for a measurement ’Holy Grail’ itself is

flawed. ’I don’t think that there’s one panacea for measurement,’ says

Peter Himler, head of Burson-Marsteller’s corporate practice. ’There are

lots of different ways to measure success: number of impressions,

product sales or stock price. In some cases, you just know a program is

successful. It’s often intuitive.’



That’s all well and good if you’re an industry insider. But if you’re,

say, an established company used to plowing most of your marketing

dollars into advertising, you’re going to want some concrete means of

determining that PR works. Hence the crusade continues. Hail to the new

pretender.



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