ANALYSIS: Weighing in on pluses and problems of measurement

Ten top corporate PR executives gathered recently to discuss one of the industry's hot-button issues - measurement. PRWeek presents excerpts from the discussion

Ten top corporate PR executives gathered recently to discuss one of the industry's hot-button issues - measurement. PRWeek presents excerpts from the discussion

With communications departments coming under more and more pressure to justify their budgets, PR measurement has never been a more important issue for the industry. Earlier this month, ten top corporate PR pros participated in a roundtable organized by the Institute for Public Relations and PRWeek. Editor-in-chief Julia Hood moderated the discussion of best practices and client needs and challenges. A sampling of their conversation follows. PRWeek: What and how do you measure? Martin: Clip counts for us have never made sense. We're a b-to-b company and we don't have a huge amount of news coverage. Measurement of media outcomes has never been a relevant metric for us. We have tried to look at outcome measurements, taking specific target audiences and seeing what kind of results we get with those audiences on specific efforts. King: As far as measuring direct return on investment, it's very difficult to link someone filling a prescription in a pharmacy to whatever their experience was with the many forms of communication we're using. But we're trying to come up with more sophisticated ways of doing that, going so far as awareness tracking in certain markets where we do efforts to measuring PR in absence of advertising and other programming that's going on. But it's very complicated and very expensive. Bergen: On the issues side, we take the top 20 issues we're looking at, whether it's a lawsuit or outsourcing. We have two columns: one is vulnerability and the other is risk. For vulnerability, we ask, 'How likely is this going to hit us: low, medium, or high?' For risk, we ask, 'If it does hit us, how serious is it - low, medium, or high?' Those two charts have become the agenda for a conference call that happens every week. My point is that measurement is critical to my own personal assessments, but it's also critical for us in setting the agenda. That requires measurement to be extremely simple. Bulger: We track everything. We track the raw numbers. We also pay particular attention to what we call preferred press hits. Those are the ones that talk about what we do for a living, whether it's a bylined article or it's a partner talking about trends in an industry where we do work. Those clips get particular attention, and it's difficult for us to have an outside agency or service evaluate that in the context of the work we're doing, the studies we put out, and the context of our competition. Collins: Part of the metric we're concerned about is the relationship metric. We look at media satisfaction with us. We go out, talk to the media, and find out if we're doing a good job, if we're responding quickly enough to their phone calls. In the automotive world, there is a naturally segmented journalist pool we can tap into, so that's not hard to do. We do that formally on an annual basis. We do it much more often on an informal basis. PRWeek: What do you need? Perkins: At the end of the day, it would be great if I could provide the people I work with some indicator of how we're doing, but I've never been able to find out what that indicator is. Frankly, when I see presentations by measurement firms, it still seems, after all the bells and whistles, to come down to number of lines in a newspaper or number of impressions. What I would particularly like to have is a different form of measurement, which would be a form of media analysis that does not measure our work, but would analyze coverage of our profession and give me an indication of issues that are emerging. For example, outsourcing. Martin: One of the mistakes we've made as a profession is feeling that we somehow have to corral all of our needs into a little box that's equivalent to ad frequency or cost-per-thousand. That's the wrong approach. What you need to ask is, "What are the business needs and how can our function meet those needs in the most effective ways?" Foster: One of the things we had to do was unify in our group how we are looked at around the world, so that in any given quarter you could say how did Europe do, how did Asia do, how did the Americas do. Were they all saying the same things? Did they look at things the same way? Every media plan was looked at differently. They all had a different operating model. Collins: Measurement standardization to me isn't nearly as important as what you're trying to accomplish up front. If you know that, then the measurement follows the objectives. To say that we need a standard set of objectives assumes that we have a standard set of goals. I'm not sure that's the case. Wohl: Who owns the responsibility in our industry to help C-suite executives understand how they should be thinking about communications success? We can do our own work internally, but are we getting enough help from people living and breathing PR measuring and monitoring on a regular basis? PRWeek: How much measurement is too much? Nielsen: I wish we would stop talking about return on investment. I think in tracking our developments that speak to performance, we often come to return on investment. It's not there. Gamsin: We measure both too much and too little. Because every agency that works for our business units has their own best-in-the-world measurement system, each business unit is doing that, and our regions are all doing their own measurement. We have a lot of measurement done internally through our marketing research group. We are presently struggling with how to tie some of this together without spending a lot. When I got to this company, we were probably spending more on measurement than we were on programs. Perkins: One can easily get caught up in a self-justifying, defensive way that is the danger of creating such a complex system of measurement and, in turn, devoting so many resources to it that it distracts from the work we have to do. Wohl: In my career, I have been in a few places where we reached the point that management understood the inherent value of the PR process, both from a product-publicity and an issues point of view. When you're sitting with 10%, 20%, or even 100% of the budget tied up in measurement, there comes a time when you ask, 'Can we agree that what we're spending on PR is returning value?' If the answer is yes, then you can ask, 'Can we take this budget that we're throwing at clipbooks and measurement and invest it in PR programs with the understanding that a year from now we're not going to be in a position to show you everything that we've gotten done.' Right now, I see more value in beginning a shift away from monitoring and measurement, and putting the money into PR programs. ------- The Participants Jack Bergen SVP, corporate affairs and marketing, Siemens Michael Bulger Director of PR, Booz Allen Hamilton Kathryn Collins Director of comms research, GM Erin Foster Director of worldwide PR, Kodak Digital Imaging Sharon Gamsin VP, global comms, Mastercard International Kate King Associate director of PR, Novartis Tom Martin SVP, corporate relations, ITT Industries Bill Nielsen Corporate VP for public affairs, Johnson & Johnson Charlie Perkins Director of PR for the Americas, Ernst & Young William Wohl VP of product PR, SAP

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