Measurement remains daunting for some, but many organizations have reached the point where they won't do anything without being able to quantify it.
Measurement is certainly not a new concept for Sun Microsystems. The company has long been very vocal about its commitment to both the idea and practice.
"We're a very quantitative company," says Karen Kahn, Sun's VP of global communications. "If you can't measure it, chances are we're not going to do it. That's just the culture here." And with approximately 3.5% of the company's nearly $15 million PR budget going toward measurement, the company is able to back up the talk with actual dollars.
As the PR industry, and Sun's use of PR in particular, has evolved over the past couple of years, so has the company's use of measurement. Kahn notes that the number-one priority is still to determine the company's presence in relevant market conversations. Yet, Sun's research has evolved from measuring the penetration of a particular product announcement to determining what messages are driving purchase decisions.
Not surprisingly, one of the most recent investments in Sun's measurement strategy is its dedication to measuring the blogosphere. Reportedly, the company has the only Fortune 200 blogging CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, so blogging has permeated its culture.
Working with Biz360, the company has segmented the top 300 bloggers that it considers to be individuals that can "move the market." Sun tracks them on a monthly basis as far as what announcements they pick up and what issues are important to them.
This measurement strategy has impacted the company's outreach to the community. When it came time to announce the launch of Solaris, a new operating system on the Open Source platform, the PR team made the decision to launch it into the blogosphere first.
"One of the most important [audiences] for Sun is the online- developer community," Kahn says. "For us, it's all about speaking to our audience."
Another major investment for Sun's measurement has been international expansion. Kahn says Sun has extended its existing measurement of traditional media to see how the company performs in brand, market, competitive, and leadership conversations in markets including Brazil, Russia, India, China, Europe, and the Mideast. The PR team has isolated 10 publications in every country and uses Biz360's media signal - a weighted research metric - to determine the level of coverage.
Quality of coverage
While the company's commitment to measurement has not wavered, Kahn says Sun's philosophy has shifted slightly in the four years she has been there. One major change has been to move away from just measuring "opportunities to see" or volume of coverage.
"Our ability to generate really good coverage is far more important than being [all] things to all people everywhere," she says.
She cites the example of Sun Labs, the company's incubator for new technology. In measuring the media coverage, she's discovered that the media signal for Sun Labs is not as high as the company's other divisions. Yet, Sun Labs' positive tone score is typically as much as 70% higher than some of the company's divisions that garner huge volumes of coverage, something she regularly points out to Sun executives.
"Here's a perfect example of how clarity trumps volume," she says. "The message is really crisp, it's really clear, it's really positive, and it's in the places that matter."
At the highest level, Kahn says the company is striving to measure corporate reputation by looking at the reputation of the brand and of the company's top executives.
To get past the previous goal of just building buzz, Sun is expanding its measurement strategy to look for stories and messages that speak about the company's customers and growth strategy.
Says Kahn: "[We're looking for] stories that have to do with our business as opposed to 'Wow, we just had off-the-chart volume of coverage.'"
Sun's experiences and evolution with measurement are indicative of a bigger industry trend. Indeed, while companies have been talking about measuring the blogosphere for at least two years, only recently have they been making a real effort, says Brian Glover, senior manager of market strategy at Biz 360.
"In the beginning, it was about curiosity or the feeling that you needed to pay attention so you didn't get slammed," he says.
Jim Nail, CMO of Cymfony, notes that he has seen an increase in the number of customers looking to compare their "traditional" media and blog coverage.
The request for blog coverage has carried over into the Hispanic market. Christine Clavijo-Kish, president of LatinClips, says that the company had tried to launch a blog monitoring and measurement product a year ago, but there was no interest from clients. Now, with data showing that 60% of Hispanics are online, clients have requested a product that will monitor and measure both Hispanic-focused and traditional blogs.
"The blog issue, while still new to the market, [will] be growing," she says. LatinClips is now monitoring and measuring blogs. It also plans to launch a specific product in the first quarter of 2007.
The rise of MMM
Last year, the biggest story in measurement was marketing mix modeling (MMM). While it had been in practice for years, Procter & Gamble's willingness to discuss how it had determined an overall better ROI for PR using MMM threw it into the spotlight.
"What [P&G gets] credit for is being one of the few companies willing to talk about what results it saw," says Don Bartholomew, GM of MWW Group's Dallas office. "What it really did is become a bit of an evangelist, not a pioneer."
David Rockland, partner and global director of research at Ketchum, predicts that MMM will soon become the industry standard for measurement of "quick sale, non-durable consumer goods."
And while MMM doesn't work for all companies, there has been an increase in requests from companies to do more integrated measurement overall - measuring the performance of PR in relation to other marketing functions.
"People are ... looking at the relationship between paid media and unpaid," says Gary Getto, EVP of media research at VMS. Traditionally, there has been little communication between a company's re- search department and PR team. Yet, as PR is becoming a bigger and more important part of the marketing mix, there is often a need to measure it using the same standards as other disciplines.
"The numbers are becoming big enough that they want to measure," says Jennifer Scott, MD of insights and research at Ogilvy PR Worldwide.
Getto notes that several of his clients are "stepping up the ladder" to correlating outputs.
"There's a real growth in [both] the level of sophistication and in beginning to recognize that just capturing outputs is not enough," he says.
Yet some fear that an overly sophisticated approach to measurement by the industry could make it inaccessible to those who may have recently gotten into the measurement game. The availability of lower-cost-of-entry measurement programs has made it possible for companies who had previously not considered measurement to get involved - which is considered a positive sign for the industry overall.
"More people have access to measurement because it's less expensive to do," says Mark Weiner, president of Delahaye. "I'd rather do some kind of measurement than no kind at all."
"Nonprofits are jumping into measurement big time," adds Katie Paine, president of KD Paine & Partners. She attributes that trend to corporate PR pros, who have become used to measurement, leaving the corporate setting for the nonprofit or academic world.
For World Vision US, a Christian relief organization, the impetus to get involved with measurement was to gauge the importance of the organization's media relations in conjunction with its robust marketing effort, says Steve Panton, executive director of media relations. In its two years of working with VMS, the organization has been able to use measurement to effectively guide its PR strategy.
"One of the things we've learned is that our media hits are skewed more towards print than broadcast," he says. "We know from research that most people receive their news from broadcast, so we need to focus our efforts much more in broadcast. That's been a significant revelation for us."
Through measurement, World Vision US has also been able to uncover new PR opportunities. For example, the organization recently discovered that it had received a large amount of positive coverage in local media after a church pastor who had seen some of World Vision's work in Africa spoke to a morning talk show about his experiences. So, the PR team is exploring ways to replicate that coverage by working with participants in World Vision events to talk to their local media.
Joining the movement
Newcomers to measurement are not limited to the nonprofit world. OppenheimerFunds began working with CARMA at the start of this year, using its CARMA online product, as well as receiving semi-annual reports from the company.
"We never really reflected on where we stand and where we make an impact with our end audience compared to competitors," says Jessica Greaney, media relations manager at Oppenheimer.
While it's been too soon to determine if the company's measurement program will have any impact on PR budget, she says that is has helped to better target Oppenheimer's PR program.
"[In the past], we would tend to beat ourselves up when we saw a competitor that was always in the news," Greaney says. "What we realized... is that sometimes we were doing an apples-to-oranges comparison.
"When we looked at the data," she continues, "it became clear to us that where our competitors showed up were not places that we wanted to be. It confirmed that a lot of strategies that we set in place were beginning to gain traction."
For Ceridian, which began working with Delahaye less than a year ago, measurement has helped to focus its PR program, says Pete Stoddart, director of PR, adding that it helps identify PR opportunities that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
"To me, measurement is like a half of a staff member," he says. "I don't have the person, but feel like I have some very careful eyes and ears on our behalf."
Indeed, once considered a "nice to have," Ketchum's Rockland says measurement has evolved into a "table stake." MWW's Bartholomew estimates that nearly 80% of PR clients overall are conducting some kind of measurement, up from 60% just a few years ago.
"Certainly all of us [in the industry] should feel good about the effort being there and people recognizing that we have to measure more and better," he says.
"I just don't see the all the people keep wringing their hands about [the fact] that nobody is out there listening," adds Angie Jeffrey,
VP of editorial research at VMS. "Yes they are [listening] and they are listening to the types of measurement that should be done. They're getting with it as best they can. We need to get them fired up and excited."
Issues on the radar
PR and word-of-mouth marketing
Because most surveys show that friends and family influence buying decisions, Ketchum partner and global director of research David Rockland predicts that more companies will attempt to measure how PR affects word-of-mouth marketing.
With the explosion in popularity of YouTube and its increasing use by marketers as a PR tactic, Jim Nail, CMO of Cymfony, forecasts an influx of clients looking to measure the messages in this online platform.
The Engagement Metric
The advertising community has long discussed developing a metric that determines how a consumer interacts with ads - and it seems as though it is not far from being determined. Jennifer Scott, MD of insights and research at Ogilvy PR Worldwide, says that with an engagement metric in place for the ad industry, PR measurement will be able to get involved as well.
While some companies have already been able to tie click-throughs to specific PR programs, Katie Paine, president of KD Paine & Partners, believes that more companies will be looking to tie Web traffic and e-commerce to PR activity. With the data already available from such programs as WebTrends and ClickTracks, it may just be a matter of better communication between companies' Web and PR departments.