There's no question that measurement is a vital part of the business. The real question, as Erica Iacono finds, is whether PR agencies should conduct measurement in-house or outsource it
With marketing budgets up for grabs and clients demanding ROI, measurement has become critical. It can help marketers plan campaigns and prove their effectiveness. But if clients no longer have to ask themselves whether to conduct such studies, agencies must still decide whether to conduct measurement in-house or outsource it to a firm that claims measurement as a specialty.
"In general, we adapt to each specific client situation depending on its needs," says Andrew Eberle, EVP in the information services group at Weber Shandwick. He adds that the agency typically does measurement for its clients internally with its WeberWorks system. While the system, which tracks all aspects of accounts, has been around for five years, Eberle notes that the measurement portion has really picked up in the past two years.
He says that an agency's choice to conduct measurement internally depends on whether it has a system in-house to track media and do analyses. "We're encouraging our clients more and more to allow us to do [measurement internally] because we have a cost-effective way to do it," he says.
For agencies with a sizable research and measurement department, keeping such work within the agency is always the first choice. David Geddes, SVP and partner at Fleishman-Hillard in St. Louis, says the agency's 30-person department is involved in every facet of a campaign's life cycle.
"We try to work with our account teams to get them to think of how to measure" from the beginning, he says. "We try to get it into their DNA."
He adds that the account team's proximity to the agency measurement team determines how both jobs are done. "We want to get the research information as close to the account teams as possible," Geddes says. "That's a big reason for keeping it in-house."
Ultimately though, it is up to the client. Eberle notes that some clients, most often larger companies, already have an existing relationship with outside measurement providers.
Don Bartholemew, EVP and director of research and measurement at GCI Group, adds that most of the media content analysis firms work directly with companies. "Generally speaking, clients will contract for measurement outside the agency relationship," he says.
Another reason clients work with an outside measurement provider is to get an objective perspective on their agency's performance. "Our practice is to do [measurement] as much as possible in-house, but at the same time, being respectful of clients that may prefer to not have their agency measure themselves," says David Rockland, partner and global director of research at Ketchum, whose 20-person department often conducts measurement analysis for other agencies' clients in addition to its own.
If the measurement portion of a campaign or project will require too much time or hiring extra staff, then it is sometimes easier to just outsource it. "There might be times when the account team decides that they don't want to be doing the measurement," Eberle says. "The client may want them to be concentrating more on executing the program and not worrying about the measurement of it."
Sometimes agencies work with an outside vendor to satisfy parts of a client's measurement needs, but they don't completely outsource it. Fleishman works with Cymfony on a dashboard solution that the agency uses in- house and to which its clients have access. This type of set-up is especially common when a bigger PR budget is concerned.
Porter Novelli also works with several measurement providers on a similar software solution, but Patrick Dodson, VP of the Seattle office, notes that for companies on a tight budget, a rudimentary measurement system will be conducted in-house. Even when a third party vendor is involved, Dodson says it's important for the agency to be apprised of, and involved in, the measurement efforts.
"It really is three different parties working toward an end goal," he says. Ketchum's Rockland agrees. "The client benefits the most if they connect the dots between whomever is doing their measurement and whomever is doing their account work," he says. "The account team is charged with putting certain messages in the media. You would think that the people that are monitoring the media should know what those messages are."
Measurement - inside or out?
Reasons for keeping measurement within an agency
Cost is lower for companies on a tighter budget
Measurement can be carried out by those closest to the account
Some agencies have dedicated measurement departments
Reasons for outsourcing measurement
Client wants an objective party to evaluate the agency's work
Client has an existing relationship with a measurement provider
Client requires intricate metrics work that can't be handled by account team