Weiner: Measuring how far we've come

Today's PR challenges are magnified by volume, speed, and diversity. Research and measurement can help make sense of it all.

Mark Weiner
Mark Weiner

For those of us who remember PR in 1998, we can recall a simpler time. Google was but a startup. Blogs were just a year old. LinkedIn didn’t appear until 2003, Facebook the year after. The traditional media business looked much the same as it had for 30 years.

In 1998, PRWeek UK launched its Global PROOF Campaign promoting PR research generally and "to encourage practitioners to allocate 10% of their PR budget to research and evaluation," specifically. A roundtable published in an April 1998 issue reported:

"Clearly the industry is committed to research and evaluation in principle, but is still confused over which particular strands of a campaign ought to be evaluated and how this should be [accomplished]."

The question comes to mind: If PR is so different, why are attitudes towards PR measurement so much the same?

Today’s PR challenges are magnified by volume, speed, and diversity: the materialization of social media; the recalibration of the traditional media business; increasing skepticism among all stakeholders. All of that – and Big Data, too.

Research and measurement, however, can help make sense of it all. 

Fresh developments for measurement and evaluation technology – some of which are free – indicate that budget is no longer a barrier. 

Free materials, including The Barcelona Principles, AMEC’s Valid Metrics for PR Measurement, and IPR’s Proposed Interim Standards for Metrics in Traditional Media Analysis, show us how to measure consistently and reliably.

Professional development resources such as those sponsored during AMEC’s Measurement Week – a global series of free educational forums on the importance of research to the PR industry held from September 15-19 – ensure that fresh provocative research and measurement thought-leadership continues to evolve publicly.

As such, the choices to measure or not to measure remain the same today as they appeared in 1998: Education or ignorance. Professional confidence or fear. The truth is as evident: the barrier to measurement and evaluation is more a matter of unwillingness than ability.

PR faces many challenges from within our organizations, from outside our organizations, and, perhaps most vexing, from within our profession. To illustrate the last point, I paraphrase the president of a midsize New York agency whose clients’ names you would surely recognize. When asked about measurement, he said, "I am happy to forego being a proven success in exchange for never being a proven failure."

If you are similarly conflicted or just uncertain, consider this: Without the proper research-based underpinnings, you may never quantify the extent of your accomplishments so that you can demonstrate your success. And without a measurable, systematic approach to PR objectives-setting, strategy development, and evaluation, you may never know enough about your performance to make improvements when needed. Finally, without a scientific method to catalogue, understand, and apply what you learn to future endeavors, success will be fleeting rather than sustainable and failures are bound to be repeated. The inevitable, unfortunate outcome of such an indeterminate state is that, while you’re in it, the world accelerates without you.

Much can be gained when the rigor of science is married to the art of PR: meaningful and positive business outcomes, market supremacy, and professional advancement. The world’s most admired companies understand and master their environment. They earn their reputations by studying themselves and then acting on what they see – the ugly as well as the sublime. The only passage out of uncertainty is a direct one through which action leads to knowledge, and that knowledge and understanding lead to success.

Those companies and PR pros who enjoy the benefits of research and evaluation begin by embracing the process fully: they relish their victories because they are validated and can be merchandized more credibly. They also understand that uncovering shortfalls is a natural result of the process, especially in the beginning, and such flaws can be isolated and corrected. As a result, these well-informed practitioners lead with confidence and certainty.

Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research, an international PR research firm that enables better business and communications decision-making. He can be reached at weiner@prime-research.com.

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