Necessary changes in behavior: The Measurement Panel [extended]

Strong metrics should empower PR to impact consumer activity and business' bottom line. As underscored by the industry leaders who joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York City for this BurrellesLuce-hosted panel, it all starts with communicators rethinking how and - perhaps more importantly - why they measure.

Go here to read Catherine Blade's keynote


-Johna Burke, EVP, BurrellesLuce
-Andrew Bowins, VP, corporate reputation, Samsung
-Allyson Hugely, President, measurement and analytics, Weber Shandwick
-Tina McCorkindale, President, Institute for Public Relations (IPR)


Catherine Blades, SVP, corporate communications, Aflac

Points of present focus

Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): I open the floor to each of you to discuss what you are focused on right now in terms of measurement, whether it’s trends you’re seeing, changes you’re noticing, or particular challenges you are facing and how you are overcoming them.

Johna Burke (BurrellesLuce): There is a huge landscape of information right now. We’re all inundated by it. But even though we get more information, one could argue that as a society we are less informed.

PR pros are fighting for that space of mind that causes people to take action. When you look for information, that’s what you need to focus on.

From an analysis standpoint, so many people are just taking information from big data – and that’s important. However, the things that really make people take action are headlines and graphics. For measurement to be most effective, you have to bridge the gap between big data and the other elements that you know are going to cause action.

Tina McCorkindale (Institute for Public Relations [IPR]): We are still having a lot of the same conversations about what to do, how do we measure, and how we prove our value. That’s the wrong conversation to have, just as it is wrong to simply plug in a valuation or measurement at the beginning or end of a campaign without doing so throughout the process.

One of the things PR is not doing that it needs to do is modeling. There is all this data out there that we can gather faster than ever. Modeling helps you make better decisions about that data. It allows you to make predictions about people’s behavior based on their attitudes and opinions. In addition, as an industry, we’re overly focused on media measurement, as opposed to other types of measurement, such as behavioral.

Andrew Bowins (Samsung): PR has certainly earned its place in the C-suite, but are we providing value at the table that’s really helping people who are worried about a P&L? Amid all this talk about measurement and PR, we’ve lost sight of a very important factor: Data without insight is just a bunch of data.

We spend so much time and effort creating dashboards and scorecards that put data in the way that looks like we won. However, what we really should be doing is focusing on insights. When the CEO asks us how we are doing against the competition, we shouldn’t be talking about media clips and the like. Our answer should always be, "Let me give you some insight about an audience that you really care about." That is what shows the CEO the power of world-class communications.

In fact, I might suggest we no longer use the term "measurement." Insights and perspectives are much better words. A communicator’s role is not to report on the weather last month. Our opportunity is to tell you in real time what’s happening in the industry, what key audiences are saying about our brands, and then inform predictions from those insights that help brands mitigate risk in the future.

Allyson Hugely (Weber Shandwick): We, too, have been trying to scrub "measurement" from our internal dialogue. Even in my title, it feels more like a legacy nod than anything. Analytics is active. It means you’re doing something. It’s decision oriented.

Measurement is too often seen as the endgame. We’ve tabulated the data, packaged a PowerPoint, and our job is done. No. What we need to do with measurement, if I use that term, should never end. We need to position data as a tool to reinforce and create more sustainable, valuable relationships with our clients.

Look at digital. It has become this catch-all term, but increasingly you have digital specialists. Someone manages your social media. Someone manages your site. You have your tech people. You have your development team. It’s all housed under "digital" as a macro term, but it really needs to be parsed out. And you need to find talent that has all those particular areas of expertise.

We’ve started to look at analytics the same way. We’ve parsed out the function into three core areas: strategic, activation, and performance. Strategic analytics is around how we get smarter about understanding our client’s business challenge. This actually allows us to use data, in some cases, to push back and offer the business another direction where it can be a bit more opportunistic.

With activation analytics, we remain focused on content and media, but we really think about what we’re doing in terms of supporting our clients where we’re engaged for public policy and issues management and crisis.

With performance analytics, it’s really about tying all the data we’ve gathered and measuring it against the business objective. These three pillars keep us better anchored in what our mission and purpose is.

In addition, PR’s big challenge has long been a cultural mindset anchored around validation, as opposed to inspiration and experimentation with data. You need to have a model that enables data to add more value to the conversations and engagements that we have with our clients.

Informing content decisions

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How can measurement most effectively inform content decisions?

Bowins (Samsung): We are in an era of content pollution and PR people and marketers need to be a little more honest with themselves. Look back at recent years at all the websites, social channels, videos, and other pieces of content you have created and held up as a big win. I’m sure a lot of it has been beautiful. But then go back to look at what PR’s mission truly is: it’s not all about marketing the content, it’s about targeting an audience with the right message and then having that audience become an advocate for that message.

We’re missing the boat. We’re focused so much on creating wonderful content, but who’s looking at it? Who’s doing anything with it? How is helping the P&L statement? Arguments that content is important for the brand without any sort of proof that it helps the bottom line will never impress a CEO.

When you ponder content, go back to the basics. Who is the audience we care about? What message do we want advocated? Are we creating content that reflects we listened to them, understand them, and can measure the effective action that comes from it?

Here’s another basic – listening. We all have two ears and one mouth. So you should listen twice as hard before you speak. When you listen, you gain insight. Listen to your audience so you know what you need. Listen to your colleagues so you understand the business better. That is the foundation for the content you create that will have the impact you need. And it will still be beautiful, too.

At Samsung, our top goal is to drive third-party advocacy through editorial. So we don’t take efforts to everyone. We have a very targeted group of media outlets that we listen to every day to discover thoughts and trends within that community and how audiences react to it. Then we use that insight to think about our editorial calendar and the types of content we’ll create on a daily, weekly, and quarterly basis. We try to proactively map and get some key targets and narratives that we want to drive into the marketplace. If we are only defined by our product and market share, we’re losing an opportunity on reputation.

Hugely (Weber): Pre-work is so important in content creation – and that’s all about strategic analytics. It’s not just listening via social media, but also actively engaging our audiences with surveys. We’re structuring research to really understand what our audiences value and the channels they seek out for their information.

The concept of "explore and exploit" is also very relevant. We are doing a lot more testing of content. Social posts. Headlines on newsletters and email distributions. Images. Everything. And it’s all in an effort to not only pull them in, but also to evaluate the stickiness of content – how long they are staying with it.

That stickiness is so vital to measure. Clicks are great, but what do they mean if the person is on your content for two seconds? It’s vital you measure the amount of time being spent with your content. That’s where the value is. You need to implement processes focused on testing, learning, and optimization.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Everyone is so overwhelmed with information it’s creating this effect where a lot of people are seeing content, but there’s no action. And if there’s no action, there’s no care and concern. If someone clicks on a five-minute video and only watched it for eight seconds, is that really an impact?

Something else that’s really important: understanding the specific data needs of every brand and client. A personal example: I get calls all the time from groups who say they can help with our website. They so often note the incredibly high bounce rate we have – and how they can fix it. What they don’t know – and wouldn’t see from some of the raw analytics – is that our homepage is where our clients log into our portal. I want them – need them – to log in. And I want them bouncing quickly because it indicates they are entering our portal. So if you are coming to me looking to fix my high bounce-rate "problem," you clearly don’t understand my needs. And that is an example of how misinterpreting data can lead to improper actions.

Hugely (Weber): That is so crucial. You need a data strategist. Nothing is more dangerous than leaping to some assumption without being grounded in an understanding of the business. And you need that business expert who understands how applicable the data is to the organization. A common mistake is coming to the game without business context. Data begets intelligence and analysis. But it needs to be applied to the business in a responsible way.

McCorkindale (IPR): Too many brands are doing content for content’s sake without stopping to ask why they are doing it. I see brand posts and it just feels like a parent trying to be cool with the kids. It’s often inauthentic and has nothing to do with the brand’s purpose.

It’s been said before, but bears repeating: In creating content, you must know what your audience needs from you. And it isn’t always a cute video.

Recently, Southwest Airlines had a computer glitch that impacted many, many travelers. CCO Linda Rutherford, who didn’t necessarily come to work that day expecting a situation that had the attention of so many people, immediately went on Facebook Live for the airline. She was standing at the listening center explaining what the issue was. Brilliant. That’s content people want to hear. It’s what they needed at the time. How does this glitch affect me? What can I do? That’s data that informs content that moves the needle.

Another example: I recently spoke to a person who runs social for a nonprofit. She lamented how despite all the effort she put into social channels and answering questions, donations never increased. Social engagement is a tactic that will often do well for brands, but this is a case where it might not have helped achieve a specific goal. You can’t always follow the same playbook everyone else does.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Big numbers are not always what tells the story. A piece of content you create can have 3 million hits. But who cares? Do you have the 72 hits you really need to adjust opinions? Are you targeting properly to get that critical mass moving? Those are the questions to ask and the results to measure.

Can there be only one?

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Say you’re a customer-facing client or represent a customer-facing client. Can you pinpoint one key metric upon which it is most important to focus?

Hugely (Weber): I would caution anyone against being anchored to one single metric because that goes counter to everything. One of the biggest mistakes we make as a professional body is the constant attempt to anchor ourselves to this idea of a magic number. There is no magic number.

Our charge is to increase trials and consideration. There are many ways to validly measure that. And there seemingly could be one metric that tells you a lot. Say your goal is to drive people to a website to download a coupon. It would seem coupon clips is a solid metric. But did they redeem it? That’s the important part. So that one metric really doesn’t tell the story.

And in any effort around modeling and getting to a point of being more predictive, you cannot develop a model with a single metric. You must always be pondering what will be the inputs into your model and then, ultimately, what is going to be the target metric you’re going to have as your outcome that you will model against. What are you trying to move? You can never get to those relationships if we continue to focus on a magic number.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Allyson’s points are on target, but there are still so many people very early in their measurement journey who legitimately want to know what that one metric is that will give them the most lift and underscore the value of PR to the brand. At some point, everyone has asked that question.

So in the spirit of the question, the one key metric is the objective. What are you looking to drive against? That can be your single metric to success and all of your communications activity comes back to that. And you can look at all your coverage on various channels and see whether or not is focuses on that one objective.

Bowins (Samsung): Insights and context. PR needs to bring in insights and context. If we are not having conversations in the C-suite where we are articulating brand goals and offering insights that can help the business advance, what are we doing? We are supposed to be advisers to the C-suite, not just folks who report on numbers. It is on us to create a new dialogue with upper management that brings change to the business. In turn, it will change how communications is perceived and evaluated in the C-suite.

Hugely (Weber): This brings to light a couple of other matters where PR might be doing wrong by itself. Often times, we don’t budget enough or we don’t have honest conversations about budgets with respect to measurement. It’s considered an add-on to an existing budget, which does not put us in the best position to be resourced appropriately to gather the intelligence that we need.

Second, we need to have smarter conversations about measurement and what we really need to make it most effective. It’s not an issue of lack of data. It’s how to use it best. We need to highlight how we can we make two or three incremental changes to the tracking servers that you may already have versus trying to come to the table with something entirely new. Focus on how you can build an analytics plan around leveraging existing resources.

McCorkindale (IPR): I’m in Allyson’s camp where choosing only one is not really what I’d advise, but if I had to focus on only one metric it would be behavior. You can have all the great content or coverage you want, but if people aren’t buying your products or services or think you’re a great company, what’s the point? PR is not effective if it doesn’t change consumer behavior. So for any metrics around PR activity, behavior should sit at the foundation.

Measuring in real time

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Many PR leaders lament how measurement efforts too often only occur at the end of a project as opposed to being done in real time. What advice do you have for facilitating real-time metrics?

McCorkindale (IPR): It drives me crazy when people claim they will do front-end research, but all that means is they Googled something about an audience. Or they do research at the end, see they got 3 billion impressions, and think they did a great job. Measurement is not about just ticking a box. It’s about making you smarter about what you’re doing.

Why measure in real time and throughout the process? So you can make adjustments and see what isn’t working. How can anyone not see the value in that? Any measurement done during the early stages of a campaign can save you so much time and money on what you are currently working on, not just future projects. And as far as awareness goes, it’s not just about raising awareness for your brand. You can have broad awareness, but a lot of people might think what you’re doing is weak. The earlier you know that, the better.

This concept of failing fast. Why? If you are continually measuring your efforts, you don’t have to fail at all.

Bowins (Samsung): Measuring throughout the lifecycle of a communications program is so vital. Whether it’s the actual launch of a product, a press event, or a CSR activity, you need to be able to show each of those single moments helped lift the brand in a meaningful way. Then you can combine those with tactical measures pertaining to audience reach, message pull-through, and so on.

At Samsung, we have an engagement bureau. We listen to social, traditional, online in real-time and we have some dashboards around being a great place to work, being a good corporate citizen, being a marketing innovator, and a handful of other top-line objectives. We always track our activity against those defined goals. We also have this set of metrics that we can say – in the moment – whether or not it went well. With this, we can step back and look at the big picture to see what happened.

This whole notion of planning metrics after the program or having loose metrics about what we’re trying to achieve is a foundational problem. If this isn’t rooted in your daily work, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, you may lose that seat in the C-suite as a result.

Hugely (Weber): The idea of measuring implies that you’ve done something. So I have to do something and then I can measure. But that’s limiting. We don’t put benchmarking next to that. We don’t put a valuation.

Marketing has actually been more effective. They consistently talk about optimization. All their data is framed as something that’s an investment in making us better. PR tends to frame its use of data as a cost in proving it did what it told you it was going to do. That’s a different starting point in the conversation.

Perhaps the word "measurement" needs to change. Analytics is a much better word where you feel as if you can come in with a relevant data point that will make you smarter because analytics is an active term tied to decision-making and data application. Measurement is gathering of data, but it doesn’t put the onus on you to actually do something with it that is strategic or decision-oriented.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Every employee must understand how the business makes and spends money. The C-suite will indulge your charts and graphs and models. However, what they really want to see – need to see – is how did this make or save me money. Unless you’re supporting how your organization makes money or spends it wisely, you’re missing a huge opportunity as a professional and as an individual. PR pros need to appreciate how measurement will not only make them better PR pros, but better businesspeople.

Merging all media

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Social media monitoring is obviously crucial for brands. However, monitoring traditional media remains. How can PR pros merge the two most effectively?

Hugely (Weber): It comes back to monitoring behavior. However, the prevailing philosophy of success by volume has to change. It’s not about a lot of impressions. If you are putting something out into the news cycle, how do you determine the signals to pick up whether or not it’s being socialized and amplified in any way? Are you driving more discussions? Are you seeing the assets you’ve put around this event or that piece of content working? Are you picking up the associations between the brand and how people are talking about it in social?

You also need to track and monitor the degree to which your news stories are getting shared. You can glean a lot of insights from identifying the outlets where you are getting an audience that is likely to act.

And you need to identify patterns. You must look at your data to see the patterns, the trends, between what is happening in earned and in social. This can also be a leading indicator of whether or not a particular story thread is losing momentum. A story could be getting traction for a while, but it will dissipate. You need to recognize those moments and pivot. You need to determine what your brand can provide as a natural fit to an ongoing conversation. This will help identify new opportunities, but monitoring social conversations based on news stories can also help you identify the true lifecycle of stories, which can inform traditional editorial decisions you make.

Bowins (Samsung): I hate when people say, "This is how we did in social, this is how we did in traditional," and they treat them like separate things. It needs to be an aggregate view of how your omnichannel efforts are working against the defined goals you have. And without tools to provide insight, you’re just scrambling and hoping everything works out.

McCorkindale (IPR): I was an analyst in a prior role. I can’t tell you how many clients didn’t want traditional and social connected. If they sat on one side, they didn’t care about the other. It’s akin to a group having all this great data, but refusing to share it with other teams on the brand. Talk about missing the big picture.

Bowins (Samsung): The number-one thing I’ve learned the hard way: don’t fight with marketing over who owns digital and social. The problem with that battle is we will show up trying to prove we can do digital and social better than them as opposed to providing a clear articulation of our strategy. We need to show how we can apply digital and social in a different context that is complementary to marketing. There doesn’t need to be a battle.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): Correlation is crucial because that gives life to all your communications. Once you’re looking at those correlations, you not only see the lifecycle, but you also see the birth and the rebirth of your stories and who is driving that. In turn, you not only see if goals are being met, but you’re determining action points based on your findings.

PR also needs the discipline and strength to take its time with data when necessary. We all want to be so expedient to get data out because a report is due or there is a timetable we feel we must meet. No. If you see a spike of note to your brand, it’s smart to take that extra week to be really thoughtful about the data. That can have a huge amount of value as compared to meeting some artificial deadline you think you have because you’re trying to put a spreadsheet or a pie chart in front of someone.

Even within your department, don’t let artificial metrics and timetables get in the way of the best asset you bring to the table – business-impacting insight.

The starting point

Fidelzeid (PRWeek): There are many brands just starting their measurement journeys. Where should they begin?

Burke (BurrellesLuce): It starts with the audience intelligence. And there are tons of reasonably priced survey methods. Partner with a company that can help you really understand and identify your prime audience, how to find them, where they spend their time, and also what they know and think about you. That’s your initial benchmark. That’s your jumping-off point to understanding your consumer base, what they deem to be valuable and how your brand aligns with that. Focusing on people is more important than the channel.

Values are really important, too. You have to find the intersection between consumer value and what your brand has to offer. There’s a lot of fast psychology that happens when people are making brand decisions – and a lot of it is based on their values and whether or not they feel a brand will match them. Every brand choice we make is really about a purpose-driven decision. It’s fulfilling who we see ourselves to be in a lot of ways. That initial foundational work can be really important. And, again, surveys are great, but structured focus groups work well, too.

Bowins (Samsung): It’s been said before, but insights. Don’t just look for numbers to report. Develop insights you can take to your C-suite. This changes the conversation from "I think" or "I feel" to one where you are giving counsel based on data. In the process, you’ve reframed what the expectation should be as to what PR’s results are. You’ve also taken an action that proves your model will create something of value.

And be proactive. You don’t want to forever be reacting to requests and fighting just to validate your function. Create a language for your team that can be used when you talk to people at all levels of your organization. When people ask for your insights, they base it on the language you’ve created and respect the function even more.

Hugely (Weber): Ask questions and challenge the norm. You might be told something is an important metric for that brand, but you have the opportunity to ask if it is still relevant. Brands’ objectives change, but they too often rely on legacy metrics that support goals that no longer hold the same relevance. It’s your job as a counselor to make sure all metrics correlate to factors that will drive the brand today – and not just accept things because they have been done a certain way for a long time.     

McCorkindale (IPR): It starts with listening. Listen to your consumer audience. Listen to your employees. Listen across the board. Compiling data on a monthly basis is a huge missed opportunity. You must be aware in real time of your key stakeholders’ issues so you can pivot immediately.

Burke (BurrellesLuce): And never start a program with arrogance and inflexibility. Be willing to accept that others have great ideas and insights that can inform your communications actions. Be willing – even excited – about sharing information with other departments so you can discover their thoughts. You can so often learn things you never thought about before.

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