What the industry gets wrong with PR measurement

Long gone the era of media clippings and column inches. Or is it?


In July, the Asia-Pacific Association of Communication Directors published a survey in conjunction with Ruder Finn that polled senior in-house communications executives across the region. When asked how the return on investment of PR expenditure was evaluated in their organisations, the top response from these senior leaders was ‘media clippings’.

In the same month an article appeared in The Economist entitled ‘the perils of PR’. In a variant of Parkinson’s law, it claimed, ‘PR expands to fill the budget available’. The writer concludes by stating: “A lot of PR activity has zero impact on the client’s public profile”.  

Of course every discipline has its share of weak practitioners and a few bad actors, but the perspective of PR as a fruitless budget-drain in a publication read widely by C-suite executives and policy makers is an obvious cause for concern. I may not share this perspective, but I can understand why it exists if senior PR leaders are primarily measuring success in column inches.

Counting clips can be a helpful indication of exposure, but these numbers ought to be breadcrumbs on a journey to much richer insights. Exposure in isolation says nothing of how PR activity has influenced opinions or driven new behaviours. It cannot demonstrate organisational impact.

PR professionals in Asia often tell me established reporting practices are difficult to shift. Some want to embrace best practice but are wary of ‘rocking the boat’. Others seem fearful that alternative approaches will expose them in some way. Many indicate they are too busy or don’t have the necessary resources. 

In response to these common concerns I often point to AMEC, the global industry trade body for communications measurement and evaluation. AMEC provides some excellent free resources to support PR professionals at different stages of their evaluation journey. Among them is the Measurement Maturity Mapper (M3) which is a great place to start your evaluation program. 

M3 is also an ideal way to engage internal stakeholders and clients around best practice evaluation, which is vital when making changes to legacy methods. You need alignment on objectives and expectations before you can define value. Even then, implementing change may require small steps. Introducing new methods alongside established ones is a sensible approach. Typically this involves an investment in critical thinking more than anything else.

As this fintech industry report elegantly demonstrates by correlating Google search trends (a free tool) to the exposure metrics, Starling Bank’s communications team can tell a more compelling story of driving active interest in the brand despite generating less coverage than competitors.

Just as objectives and challenges vary across organisations, so will measures of success. There is no single metric that proves PR value. There is no single right metric, but there is definitely a wrong one. Some PR practitioners continue to use Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE) despite wide spread acknowledgment it is a bogus methodology with a complete lack of academic research to support its use. Unfortunately, AVE and derivatives of it remain commonplace in PR reports in Asia. If this includes yours, here are 22 reasons why you should reconsider.

To support implementing best practice and defining value in your organisation, AMEC provides the Integrated Evaluation Framework. It is designed for all PR practitioners, inhouse, agency, big or small and based on a sound foundation of linking organisational and PR objectives through activity to outcomes. It is the outcomes that CEOs and policymakers care about at the end of the day.

The AMEC framework encourages you to think about measurement from the beginning and throughout the campaign process. It’s difficult to prove you had an impact if you don’t measure before and afterwards. Whether you are trying to get people to stop smoking, buy a sports car or visit a local retailer, you can build a framework to support your PR planning and evaluation process which will lead to professional, credible reporting.

Departments across organisations from sales and marketing to finance and logistics are embracing data-driven decision making. At a time when budgets are being closely scrutinised PR should be focussed on the metrics that matter.

Proper planning, measurement and evaluation demonstrates value and shows your CEO you are an asset.

Andrew Nicholls is co-founder and managing director at Carma Asia


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