GAINESVILLE, FL: General Electric, McDonald's, General Motors, and Southwest Airlines have adopted the first round of measurement standards proposed by the Coalition for Public Relations Research.
Traditional media measurement, digital and social media capacity, communications lifecycle, and ROI are covered in the standards, which are part of a six-stage process.
The Coalition includes the Public Relations Society of America, the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, the Institute for Public Relations, and the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. Founded last year, it also includes the Council of Public Relations Firms and The Conclave.
The standards' first two stages required the Coalition to propose initial ideas, then develop them into proposals. The third part required a customer panel to review and approve the measurements.
Since all four companies on the panel have signed off on the benchmarks, the criteria will be used by communications professionals, evaluated, and revised as necessary to become “final” standards. The Coalition will continuously review and revise the model in the last stage in the process.
“We will be reviewing the standards at least once a year to ensure they are still as relevant and as strong as they can be,” said Frank Ovaitt, president and CEO of the Institute for PR. “Nobody believes that PR or the world in which we operate is going to stop changing; we can't just say the research standards are done now.”
McDonald's has evolved the way its communications methods are measured over the past few years, according to Molly McKenna, director of public relations for the fast-food chain.
“It is essential for corporations, agencies, and measurement firms to try out the interim standards, and provide feedback to the Coalition,” she said. “We will continue to evolve the standards as the industry evolves, and we receive feedback.”
Although the research standards are a step forward for the PR industry, they should only be used as a rough guide for the time being, said David Geddes, Coalition chair and principal of Geddes Analytics.
“The standards are just technical processes or recipes,” he said. “The really hard work is setting measurable objectives and building measurement into your PR efforts, not bolting it on at the end.”
In the past, Southwest Airlines' communications team would get reports from its analytics provider that would not match corresponding marketing reports. The company has since decided on one provider as a solution.
“Having our provider be able to use standards being used by the rest of the measurement industry will go a long way," said Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines' VP of communication and outreach. “It is very important for everyone to talk from the same song sheet.”
In recent decades, companies have optimized manufacturing, IT, advertising, and marketing, leaving PR in the dust, according to Geddes. The contribution of PR as part of an integrated marketing communications function has never been concretely defined, he added.
“Without standards, our ability to learn and share information from one group to another has been limited,” Geddes said. “A lot of time is wasted, because people have been reinventing the wheel nonstop. With standards, we can actually allocate our brain power to delivering insights, rather than squabbling over something like what it means to measure social media impressions.”
Fear and tight budgets are to blame for the industry holding off on creating standards, he added.
“People are too scared and too cheap,” Geddes said. “They are too scared to really measure things right, because it might show they didn't succeed; and too cheap to spend the money to measure and evaluate – these are common problems that may have contributed to the standards' delay.”