Measurement Roundtable: Beyond the numbers

Measurement's evolution relies on PR's ability to convert metrics and data into shareholder-friendly intelligence for multiple audiences. The keys to doing it were discussed by sector leaders in New York City for this BurrellesLuce-hosted roundtable.

–Johna Burke, EVP, BurrellesLuce
-Mike Donahue, EVP, American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s)
-Chris Foster, VP, head of strategy and organization capability, Booz Allen Hamilton
-Mary Elizabeth Germaine, SVP, director of research, Ketchum
-Allyson Hugley, EVP, measurement, analytics, and insights, Weber Shandwick; co-chair, AMEC, North America
-Jeffrey Moran, VP of PR, events, and lifestyle marketing, Pernod Ricard
-Kim Stokes, MD, digital and social media, Marina Maher Communications
-Mark Stouse, founder and CEO, Vaulting Ventures
-Annie Weber, SVP and GM, GfK Custom Research

Effective storytelling
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
What are the keys to converting data into stories that will resonate with audiences?

Allyson Hugley (Weber Shandwick): We’ve become anchored in the idea that data will speak for itself and drive the story. We rely too much on data as a crude input.

Ultimately, the key is what we analyze and the insights gleaned from it. That becomes the narrative.

Chris Foster (Booz Allen Hamilton): Data is only as good as its ability to allow executives to make decisions. There’s a point at which someone has to do something with data and content – and that’s the storytelling. That’s the art of the profession.

Mary Elizabeth Germaine (Ketchum): When trying to engage with an audience through storytelling, you must figure out the relevancy and the human truth you can arrive at based on that data. When you convert it to that human truth, it’s something they can connect to.

Annie Weber (GfK): It’s like a sculptor looking at a piece of marble. He keeps staring at it until he sees all the pieces that don’t belong. Strip away all the noise, you’re left with a few key pieces of data that strengthen your story.

Mike Donahue (4A’s): Long before you ever get to Big Data, you must start with the small data that advertisers have long had about their users that can inform creative decisions and allow a great story to be told.

When you combine that small data to create a story with Big Data about where the story ran and who did what because of it, you get smart data – and that’s the important thing.

Kim Stokes (Marina Maher Communications [MMC]): If you don’t cull insights to generate a rich story, you’re not rooting it in anything. We look at conversation-landscape analyses to understand what our audiences need and want. And not just vis-à-vis your brand, but the broader subject matter you’re trying to own.

We’re constantly making sure our stories are told in a way that continues on through our audiences. Otherwise, your story hits a dead end.

Johna Burke (BurrellesLuce): "Customer first" is where good storytelling both comes from and goes. If that weren’t the case, much of the discussion around measurement wouldn’t be as prominent.

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How do you best measure the impact of the stories data is helping form?

Jeffrey Moran (Pernot Ricard): It must be about a call to action. A brand can have 90% awareness, but still might not be the leader in the category. People may like, appreciate, even talk about the brand, but if they’re not buying it, the rest almost doesn’t matter.

Stokes (MMC): It’s about how to take your audiences along with you on the path to purchase so you convert conversations to commerce. Stories help brands earn the right to be in a person’s life.

Mark Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): Connecting the dots on storytelling is really hard in b-to-b, but beyond their value in raising awareness, education, and lead generation, there are two other legs of sales productivity that are impacted by comms – deal expansion and sales velocity. Those are issues of customer trust and confidence. Storytelling has a huge impact on that.

Foster (Booz Allen): A brand story can’t end. Just as the consumer’s journey and decisions constantly change, the story must evolve and change as the market matures or as challenger brands step up.

Moran (Pernot Ricard): If you’re telling the story the right way, you may also evolve your product. If you’re only pushing one way, that’s not storytelling. It’s grandstanding. You must listen to what’s being added into that story and make amendments along the way, whether it’s at retail, in your product mix, or even in the offering itself.

Germaine (Ketchum): It’s all about relevancy at those key moments in time. If a customer never tried your product, you build relevance. Once they have tried it, their experience has changed and the relevance of the product has changed with it. Listening from a social perspective comes into play to continue informing how the relevance for your particular consumer changes over time.

Hugley (Weber): Engaging your core audience is important, but there are also key influential stakeholders. Being able to measure and evaluate the extent to which they adopt and become part of carrying that narrative is a main indicator of a story’s effectiveness.

True connection
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Beyond click-throughs, likes, and so on, how do you define real engagement?

Donahue (4A’s): Consumer engagement is turning on a brand user or prospect. If you don’t turn somebody on emotionally with a relevant message in the appropriate context, you’ll have a hard time engaging.

Moran (Pernot Ricard): There is a continuum of engagement because it’s very difficult to go from zero to 100 immediately. In the early stages, you’re looking for something that gets people to think about or be open to your offering. Then you’ll bring them through to some point of engagement. Then the continuum goes to the purchase.

Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): A CEO once told me engagement is "somebody who has taken an action in response to something we did." He added that it’s not about sentiment. It must be monetizable. It’s not real until somebody does something with it.

Foster (Booz Allen): Engagement isn’t necessarily always linked to some type of emotional driver. Sometimes, a rational story backed by facts and figures is enough to get someone hooked. Then you can get to the emotional piece.

Germaine (Ketchum): There’s passive engagement – and I put "likes" in that category. You can like a brand whether or not you’re truly engaging. True engagement is when that brand becomes part of who you are and then you become an advocate for it.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Engagement is the romantic part, but the C-suite is more interested in the marriage. What are the terms of this relationship? How do we make this last? If it fails, what will happen? Engagement is the soft communications metric. We need to look at loyalty and advocacy.

Weber (GfK): You can’t think about true engagement without a deep, meaningful understanding of your target audience or customer. You must understand what they want and then drive those behaviors. It takes all kinds of research to get there and all kinds of listening. Surveys are a great tool for that.

Donahue (4A’s): There’s a great book by Simon Sinek, Start With Why. If you don’t ask why someone is about to do something, you’ll have a hard time measuring what they did.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Information on customer service is an underutilized KPI. As we all look to engage with and acquire new customers, it’s vital to maintain your existing ones. It’s great to get likes, but if your customer service complaints go up, that’s a red flag. If communicators want to show they’re contributing to organizational goals, that’s a key focus.

Hugley (Weber): We must have different types of conversations with our client organizations. Fully understanding the impact of communications requires having access to data and stakeholders that oftentimes do not solely reside in the communications function.

Foster (Booz Allen): We get these eloquent, seductive briefs from clients and we focus on making sure we are compliant. We need to try and diagnose what problem we are trying to solve.

Donahue (4A’s): In the late 1960s, Rheingold introduced the first light beer, Gablinger’s. It was monstrously unsuccessful because they didn’t understand the problem. They tried to attract heavy beer users on the premise that drinking it was a smart thing to do.

Years later, Miller didn’t make the same mistake. It recognized the prevailing perception that the only people who would drink light beer are women and wimps. So it introduced a campaign where the story was all these athletes having a good time drinking it. They gave permission for men to drink it. They attacked a problem that existed.

Weber (GfK): Those moments of inspiration come from a combination of things. It was smart creative, but I bet there was some really good data about what those people really felt.

There was a running joke at this year’s AMEC Summit about how much many of us hate data. You must work with data and be creative with it. How will we have a seat at the table with CEOs if we hate data?

Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): Another aspect of data that’s crucial here is that very few people in our profession actually understand how business operates and how money is made.

During a past stint at a firm, we came up with a fantastic campaign for a big insurance client. The board unanimously turned it down. Why? Their data told them when their visibility went up, claims went up. That’s bad for business.

We were playing our game, but guess who was playing the real game? It happens a lot. A lack of business literacy and data literacy can give us a world of hurt in the C-suite.

Listen and learn

Booz Allen Hamilton VP Chris Foster spoke with PRWeek managing editor Gideon Fidelzeid prior to the roundtable about more effective use of data, what the C-suite really wants from comms pros, and how measurement can help PR rise above among the marketing disciplines. Below are some key takeaways:

•Meaningful engagement
It’s like a spider web now. We push information out, it goes left, right, up the hall, down the street. It’s less about trying to convey content and much more around trying to create a platform where stakeholders and consumers can actually interact with that content. It’s in our ability to interact with content that we get to a very magical place around engagement.

•How measurement can help PR stand out
It rests upon communications professionals to make the connection between the impact of what they do and the key business drivers that enterprises are trying to move toward.

•More effective use of data
We’re using it to answer questions, but we need to use data to figure out what questions we should be asking. That’s the power of data. And just broadly, we should be doing more listening and less searching. That’s where we have a real opportunity.

•Making a stronger case to the C-suite
PR pros make CEOs work really hard to figure out what we do. We try to prove our value with dashboards and the like and it just gets too complex.

And let’s say we’re working on an effort where the real goal is raising awareness. That’s fine. The CEO wants to know what that awareness did for the business. We say, "90% of people now know who your company is," but the CEO will ask, "And that means what?" Too often, we still aren’t answering that question.

•Common mistakes around social media measurement
We measure what happened yesterday too much, but the real power of social media is that it is the most dynamic data set we have. It changes every five seconds. We’re not making those right connections, but there is a great opportunity to do precisely that and really think about digital and social as this extraordinary lake of data to which we have access.

Click here for more from Foster on data, answering C-suite expectations, and his biggest concerns and reasons for optimism about the future of comms measurement.

Status of standards
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
Where is the PR industry in its pursuit of standardization?

Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): Two years ago, a very famous tech CEO said, "Your colleagues need to understand that [business leaders] expect marketing and communications to understand our standard of proof and meet it, not develop their own."

We’ve done great work at the tactical, functional level, but we are not building analytics that really tie what we do to business impact.

Hugley (Weber): Part of it is rethinking the energy we’re putting toward standards in the industry. We need to establish a standard of data literacy within our profession. We must also think about how to better game the search system because there are algorithms that change on an almost daily basis into which we have no line of sight.

Donahue (4A’s): In the Harvard Business Review’s July-August issue there was a feature on the new marketing organization. What became clear was that the marketing people – informed by PR, advertising, and experience marketing – have to become business partners in the company. They must go to the enterprise strategy and do the things that play to that and not to their own silo.

Foster (Booz Allen): As it relates to standards, and this is probably heresy, we have sort of created a problem so we could solve it. The fact there isn’t this uniform standard set is not getting in the way.

Standards are important because we need to provide guidance as our industry matures, but the things we do are never apples-to-apples, be it investment, time, or impact. And PR programs differ greatly based on each client. To do what we do most effectively, you identify a problem and measure around it. We need to put standards into context.

Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): We need to focus on the business definition of impact. In the not so distant past, many PR pros would believe if they got an article about a client, that was their ROI. Well, the CFO would say the PR pros don’t understand what ROI is. ROI is a cash-on-cash number.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): The great equalizer is the P&L. However you’re contributing to or detracting from it, that’s the end result. And you can show the matter-of-fact correlation of communications to that. Trying to do anything more than that, beyond your sphere of impact, is where we lose credibility.

Donahue (4A’s): The Marketing Science Institute, in conjunction with the 4A’s, has conducted research that underscores this: If you are able to create a message or an experience and then allow users to participate in that, you will have a disproportionate impact on the power users in a franchise.

Such efforts create brand loyalty and improve short-term cash flow because you don’t have to promote as much against that and give money away. Tell that story up the line, have evidence, and the CFO and even the procurement people will see PR’s impact as they never have before.

Stokes (MMC): The term "standards" is used very loosely. "It’s industry standard to do X or it’s standard practice to do Y," people say, when what they are really talking about is best practices, which is different than standards. Particularly in social media, it’s extremely hard to pinpoint. Often it’s the platforms themselves that are defining standards that really are within their own channel and that serve their objectives.

In the end, consumers determine what is and is not acceptable to them from the standpoint of what brands are doing.

Weber (GfK): The standards in PR seem prescriptive, rather than holding people to a standard. What about some basics about transparency? You can do an experiment, but you must be willing to be transparent about it to your client and to anybody who wants to pressure test. That’s the standard we often live to in the research industry.

Hugley (Weber): Some of that exists with efforts such as the Barcelona Principles, which touch on transparency. There are efforts to really put forth standards, but we must be mindful of overreliance on models that may have served us well to date, but might not serve our industry best going forward.

Facing forward
Fidelzeid (PRWeek):
How can measurement work in a manner that truly informs future strategies, as opposed to solely analyzing what has been done?

Moran (Pernot Ricard): It starts with integration. At our company, we’re thinking more broadly about touch points, as opposed to the silos. That gets everyone to speak the same language. And again, everything must be based in business results. Listen to what the data is telling you about getting to the consumer. If you can get to that viewpoint, that will inform your strategy.

Stokes (MMC): It’s easy to see what’s percolating now. The key is understanding historical patterns in behavior and conversation. You must find the triggers that can help identify white space for companies to own, whether it’s thought leadership, customer service, or engaging Millennials. That white space can define a way of breaking through to generate a meaningful conversation that also dovetails on existing activities.

Hugley (Weber): People pigeonhole themselves by starting most conversations about data by discussing it through the lens of measurement. We must broaden that and position the data and analytic functions within our organizations as a bit more holistic, more inclusive, and allow us to ask critical questions outside of assessing the activity just completed.

Stouse (Vaulting Ventures): Every CEO seeks somebody who can tell them what’s going to happen. The ability to do that with data and to show them a correlation and occasionally causality between "if you pull this lever, this will happen, or if you make this decision, here’s your risk" is really key. PR can’t be afraid to be predictive. And data exists to allow that.

Germaine (Ketchum): Marketing mix modeling was definitely a big buzz in the industry, but that is also very historic-looking. You’re looking at spend over the past few years to determine your ROI over time. How do we take those more traditional analytics models and make them truly predictive? You’re still using the history. It’s the same data, but it’s looking at it through a different lens and not stopping.

Donahue (4A’s): If you’re talking about PR measurement and informing future strategies, remember that companies value continuity and appreciate whatever enables them to maintain that. Moreover, it is not only OK to fail, but it can actually be good, so long as you don’t fail the same way twice.

Another factor is disruption, though that must be done in a certain way to be effective. As [Harvard Business School professor] Clay Christensen once said, one of the problems in adopting disruption is that, oftentimes, companies will use the old model to disrupt, rather than create a new model to do so.

Stokes (MMC): One of my favorite terms is "flawsome." The whole point is being willing to have flaws. That will allow you to succeed because you can course correct based on that.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): The CFO would never seek permission for an audit. It’s part of business. If you’re looking to leverage communications across the board, you need an audit system. We call that measurement in many cases, but there has to be that audit in place for everything they are doing.

Hugley (Weber): If we are anchored in accountability and proving that we won, we often create blind spots in the data we choose to analyze. If we solely focus on successes, we miss the chance to be more forward looking because we’re not thinking about where to improve. We must look at all the data, not just the data we like.

Click here for more from this roundtable, including a look at how PR measurement can actually help CEOs do their jobs better.

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