Several respected senior PR counselors have been speaking out lately about the reasons PR can't be measured accurately. The problem is, they're looking at a dated model for PR measurement - oriented around output, rather than outcomes.
Business is like football - you either score or you don't. And like football, we all ought to be accountable for the outcomes of our business efforts - money in, results out. PR is no exception.
Other communications disciplines have blazed this path before us, and we should follow their trail. In advertising, where the financial stakes are high and accountability has been an implicit part of the business for many years, the measure falls into two categories: impact and influence. Let's look at the opportunity for measuring PR work in these two arenas.
First, impact. If we set out to deliver a message to an audience, we should be willing to be measured on how effectively and efficiently we delivered that message. There's little point in counting clips if we don't also take into account who the clips reached, how often we reached them, and how many of our messages were conveyed. We must subject our coverage to an analysis of reach and frequency, which any advertising media firm can do for a small amount of money. Simple stuff, but critical to turning the corner on one of our profession's Achilles heels.
Second, influence. Most large firms and major brands have tracking studies in place to measure key brand attributes like familiarity, favorability, and audience intentions to act. PR needs to engage in this effort and take responsibility - and credit - for its role in the outcomes.
These measures can apply to every facet of our work, from marketing PR programs to CEO counseling to crisis avoidance. They're not esoteric number crunching exercises. They're straightforward, tried and true techniques for understanding the outcomes created by communications.
The classic example of PR advice that can't be quantified is the immeasurable value of a crisis avoided. The problem is, if the crisis had happened despite our advice (let's say the lawyers' advice prevailed!), we certainly would be moaning about the negative impact on the company's reputation. So we ought to be able to celebrate the value of steady positive feedback from the marketplace when the reverse is true.
Stressing the importance of judgment or trust in our relationship with management begs the issue. Of course we need that. But until PR people are willing to be evaluated on the impact and influence of our advice and our work, we won't earn that "seat at the table" with other executives who understand the importance of results.
We've spent many years building the reputation and credibility of our industry. The education of what PR can and can't do is still ongoing, and we shouldn't hang our hats on any one tool or technique. But measurement is vital to the future success of our industry. Our challenge now is to agree on the most effective methodology for measuring our work.
Measurement isn't only for the benefit of convincing management of our value or gaining a bigger budget for the next launch. By holding ourselves accountable for the work that we do, we can learn how to do it better. That's how we have advanced our profession and its goals, and how we'll continue to do so.
Unquestionably PR has a unique value proposition. But its value can and should be measured. So, what can we do from here?
One, come together as an industry and embrace a consistent methodology for measurement. Two, champion measurement to demonstrate the value of our work. Three, continue to push our profession to embrace their role as business - not just communications - counselors.
As business counselors, we should recognize that PR is both an art and a science. When your strategic counsel helps a CEO recover from a worldwide crisis with limited damage to the corporation's reputation, that's art. But if you can raise the awareness and relevance of a cleaning product to college students through audience insights, third-party alignments, and a targeted grassroots campaign, that's science. The effect of both can and should be measured.
We shouldn't be afraid to embrace the left and right sides of our PR "brain." Measurement should be an integral part of the profession's culture - hand in hand with research and strategic planning.
I respectfully agree with my professional colleagues that there is a time and place for measurement in our profession. The time and place is now.
Lou Capozzi is CEO of MS&L and the current chairman of the Council of PR Firms.