Whether just starting out, or in the middle of a long-term investment, companies across different sectors recognize the value of a proper measurement program.
At the beginning of 2006, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) had no PR staff. Today, it boasts a staff of 13 people - six in media relations, a multimedia manager with Hollywood experience, and a manager for communications research. And it's looking to add a fourteenth member.
Along with the meteoric growth of its PR department, there has been an escalation in the organization's measurement efforts.
"It used to be only random issues monitoring," says Shonali Burke, VP of media and communications for the ASPCA. "[We'd say] 'Hey, there was a story about dogs!' 'Hey there was a story about cats!' Now we're putting systems in place," she says. "There's no other way to have tangible objectives if we don't have competitive analysis."
The ways that organizations define objectives for their PR programs are varied. So determining whether they're approaching or achieving those goals requires equally varied scales.
PR measurement has changed over the years, becoming more sophisticated, efficient, and accurate. So have the measurement programs being put in place. Organizations - from those who have just started a measurement program, to those who've been measuring their efforts for years - are using the latest PR measurement techniques to delve into the details of their communications programs. They're using these findings to produce more concise messages, louder buzz, and - however you define it - better results.
To buttress its new PR department, the ASPCA is using KDPaine & Partners' DIY Dashboard technology to establish benchmarks that will help guide the department's growth.
"I don't know how to [reach our goals] if I don't know where we are," says Burke.
Already in these beginning stages, the ASPCA PR department has had two major tests. First there was the recall of tainted pet food that has killed thousands of dogs and cats.
Then there was news that NFL superstar Michael Vick was involved in the operation of an illegal dog-fighting ring. In both cases, the ASPCA became an important resource for the media and for animal lovers.
"With a crisis like the pet food recall, [we] had a knowledge base of cases [and] amazingly integrated communications," says Burke. "It was slightly different [with the Vick case,] because we were involved in the investigation. There was a lot we couldn't say."
The ASPCA had experts ready to give the media and individuals topical information; online portals to provide information (both on their own site and on MySpace); and consistent messaging across all levels of the organization.
Using the dashboard, the PR team is generating reports and gathering feedback that will be used to craft future PR strategy.
"Because of our media outreach, Web site traffic increased," says Burke. "It showed for the first time [that] really aggressive, targeted outreach and output could affect our Web traffic. That's the gold standard of how we should develop our measurement program. Now we're starting to plug in Web metrics, so we can correlate traffic to the site with other pieces of the puzzle. We can start using the dashboard to track and shape our outreach, hopefully starting next year."
For other organizations, measurement is a tool to confirm what's working and to tweak what isn't.
Since 2001, Club Med has been revamping its image, moving away from one of a singles party resort toward one of a more upscale, family-friendly, all-inclusive vacation. With a limited advertising budget, PR is critical.
"It's important to know the quality of the press coverage," says Kate Moeller, PR director for Club Med Americas. "Some [outlets] could still be talking about Club Med as a singles resort."
The company has been using BurellesLuce to monitor the use of key phrases in its media coverage. A few years ago, the PR team began using the word "upscale" in its messaging surrounding the rebranding because there was evidence that the previous term, "luxury," wasn't resonating.
"When journalists came to the resort, their feedback was 'I don't know if this is the word that you should use,'" says Moeller.
Because Club Med relies heavily on repeat visitors to support its business, choosing the appropriate word to describe the vacation they have to offer can make the difference in attracting the desired customer.
"Guests who book are more satisfied," Moeller explains. "The experience is meeting their expectations."
While Club Med is using measurement to guide its rebranding, Convergys, a b-to-b relationship management company, is using it to enhance its brand.
"We look at coverage in terms of how favorable it is," says Jane Garvey, VP of PR and communications at Convergys. "But [both] favorable and neutral [are] actually benefits because we're not a top-of-mind company."
Using Carma International, Convergys has split its attention between monitoring national and trade media, seeking out the most appropriate outlets for its message. Trade publications are important for reaching its target consumers in HR, IT, and customer relations management, while the company's national outreach is used as an image driver.
"The national and business press will generate more awareness for Convergys, so we really see that as a driver for corporate reputation," says Garvey. "It has carry-over to Wall Street and the investor community. And it has additional legs with our employees [which total over 70,000]."
A big part of the company's measurement system is managing risk. When its message is off with any of their constituents, the PR team can act quickly to correct it.
"We have a PR group ready to respond to any situation," says Garvey. "Once it's flagged, we're carefully monitoring and hoping to see more favorable coverage as we work that situation."
A key characteristic of these measurement programs is evolution. Whether it's just the message that's shifting or the entire program, measurement is being used to signal change.
For more than 12 years, Epson, the global technology company, has been working with KD Paine & Partners to measure print media. Over that same time period, the company has had to make adjustments to take new media into account. A decade ago, it added discussion forums and chat rooms to the mix. Now it has moved on to blogs and "structured review locations," where customers are invited to add their rankings and critiques.
"Now, print is still a very important [medium]," says Denise Offut, senior manager of market research at Epson America. "[But] we took the same general approach and mirrored it over to the electronic discussion."
As the speakers change, measuring things like tone can prove to be a little tricky.
"They aren't trained communications pros," added Offut. "You just hear what they have to say. In the earlier days, people were just trying to exchange facts. We [felt] there would be more emotion. We were a little surprised by that."
Now that print publications are frequently online, the company is measuring what's being said on sites where content is produced by both professional journalists and consumers.
"We're all looking to see where it's going and trying to follow our observations," says Pam Barnett, senior manager of PR and events for Epson America. "It's a lot of fine-tuning and experimentation. We're trying to determine places we need to be influencing and monitoring."
Rick McCarty, VP of issues management for the National Cattleman's Beef Association (NCBA), joined the organization 18 years ago when they used a clip service.
Among the technology advances since that long past era, the ability to sift through massive amounts of information electronically is one that has improved the whole measurement process.
"It was kind of a numbers game," says McCarty. "It was very difficult to make good sense about what was out there in the media."
In 1991, McCarty began using CARMA, which boils down the information generated for the NCBA into more manageable items. The group is now organized into strategy teams, such as safety and nutrition, which scan daily data reports to determine the five or six trends each section should be focused on and which misperceptions should be corrected.
"We take a look at how a particular topic is being covered," he says. "We not only identify an opportunity, we see [if there's] an opportunity to shift the coverage a little bit."
Of course, the NCBA is currently watching the Web as well, all managed by data reports from CARMA and in-house analysis.
"You've got to decide on your objectives," says McCarty. "Whatever we do needs to be useful. What is it we want to know about the industry? And how are we going to use that to make our marketing or PR effort better?"
One riddle that measurement still strives to solve is PR's effect on the bottom line.
"From our standpoint, we see that there's a direct correlation [between PR and] calls to our lead desk, which leads to sales," says Convergys' Garvey. "Placements we do in local markets that have Convergys facilities that are actively recruiting, we can see a correlation with an increase in applicants." Still, Garvey says the company will "continue to use anecdotal evidence" rather than hard measurement numbers.
ASPCA's Burke says they will be working with the organization's development department in the future to try and find correlations with fundraising.
"We want to develop a system where we can measure outreach, output, and outcomes both in communications and how it affects internal systems," she says. "Whether it's Web metrics, fundraising metrics, [etc.,] we want to be able to see that we're consistently, positively impacting those other metrics."
Perhaps a little curiously, some organizations like the American Cancer Society (ACS) incorporate measurement tactics into their PR efforts even when they seemingly don't need it. In January, they began using VMS InSight to include national coverage with their local coverage measurement. Approximately 99% of the stories they track have a favorable tone, according to Becky Steinmark Erwin, national director of media relations for the ACS.
"InSight helped us to look at things comprehensively," she adds. "We're able to set up different threads within InSight... to monitor by cancer type."
Their measurement effort serves that most basic purpose of demonstrating the importance of PR: "We've been able to demonstrate that earned media impact to show that we're reaching consumers through PR in addition to advertising," says Erwin.
Waste Management (WM), a provider of waste and environmental services, gauges its PR efforts on both a national and local level, using measurement to ensure that its contributions to the environment is a story being told in the media. Lynn Brown, VP of corporate communications, says WM consistently measures the same things - the number of stories and tone - using Cision to aid in the analysis.
Ultimately, WM is using measurement to help Brown's team realize that single aspiration of all PR pros.
"For us, it's just making sure we're the best communicators that we can possibly be," says Brown. "If we tell our story and people better understand [it], we'll be better off as a company."
Keys to a successful measurement program
1. Get staff and management on board. Conduct research even if management isn't on board at first. "Every executive wants to know 'How are we doing?'" says Mark Weiner, SVP and global director of Ketchum's Global Research Network. Utilize outside sources like the Institute of Public Relations for materials that give staff members the knowledge
and insight they'll need to do the work.
2. For new measurement programs, it's imperative to know where you are and where you want to go. "Unless you benchmark, you don't know if you're moving towards your goals," says Shonali Burke, VP of media and communications, ASPCA.
3. Be clear about what you're measuring. "It's the same tip as 10 years ago," says Rick McCarty, VP of issues management at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "You've got to decide on your objectives. What is it that you want to know and what are we going to do with this information?"
4. Once you've got goals, get the technology. Monitoring services, research firms, and other outlets can provide you with the technology to work quickly, accurately, and efficiently. "Relate your measurement system to your goals, and then always keep yourself up-to-date with new tools," says Jane Garvey, VP
of PR at Convergys.
5. Use measurement as a planning tool. "Sometimes, measurement is viewed as a report card rather than a tutor," says Weiner. Measurement should be used to guide improvement.