“We lost 40% of our ability to fundraise in daytime [when lockdown hit],” explained Andy Johnson-Creek, Head of PR for the UK veterans’ organisation Help for Heroes. “Drive time used to be a big winner for us. But with people working from home, it just doesn’t deliver what it used to. We’ve had to really re-frame what our audiences are doing. That’s been really difficult.”
Johnson-Creek was speaking at the Measurement Conference, as part of a panel entitled ‘What is the key to mastering PR Measurement?’. Organised by PRWeek and sponsored by Ketchum, the session brought together leaders from the global PR industry to talk about the challenges and opportunities presented by the ways we measure and judge the effectiveness of PR.
Alongside Johnson-Creek, the panel members were Mary Elizabeth Germaine, managing director, global research and analytics at Ketchum; David Child, head of communications at the travel agency Thomas Cook; Peter Allen, executive director corporate affairs and communications at National Highways; and Richard Bagnall, the CEO of media-monitoring specialist CARMA.
“Everyone is fighting for budget right now. Everyone is fighting for dollars. There’s a finite amount of money for organisations to spend. In order for PR, communications and marketing to get their fair share of the pie, we need to show how we’re impacting the business,” said Germaine. “It doesn’t mean that everything has to drive sales. Some of that measurable business impact can be reputation based or brand-building based. But what we measure must go beyond looking at outputs. It’s about actually tying those together and doing direct attribution to things that the c-suite cares about.”
Be emotive rather than shocking
The theme of change – particularly changing expectations – and effectively responding to change, is one that came up repeatedly throughout the session. Ketchum’s Mary Elizabeth Germaine said: “The companies that are data-driven and understand they need to answer the 'so what' in the numbers will win in the marketplace. It’s critical to understand how to use data to target the right audience at the right time with the right message AND to showcase how that targeting created meaningful change for the business.”
Peter Allen, of National Highways, highlighted the need for PR measurement not just to keep up with the changing needs of the business, but also to respond to changes in consumer behaviour. “Years ago, we used to try and shock people into changing their behaviour. And there was some success from that. Think about, for instance, the seat belt campaigns of the 1980s. But now those kinds of shock tactics are less effective. People switch off. People are more influenced by people like themselves. But people also respond to more emotive campaigns. When you join the road, you join a community. You have a responsibility to other drivers. If everyone behaves in the same way, we all benefit. We get there quicker, with fewer accidents.”
Judge your outcomes
“I don’t think many PR people have had their products made illegal,” quipped David Child, head of comms for travel agent Thomas Cook, “but we did, for most of last year. We relied heavily on PR to keep our name in the press, because PR is free. To spearhead the revival of Thomas Cook, I used really soft measurement. Does speaking on the BBC make a measurable difference to the traffic levels? Has it sparked social conversation? I’ve been able to track that well, because it’s simple. As we grow our business and look for more paid campaigns, it’s going to be trickier. My next challenge is to show what is distinctive about the PR activity I deliver versus, say, the TV advertising we might do?”
“How do we prove value, rather than simply show we have done some activity,” asked Richard Bagnall of CARMA. “Activity without value is just a cost. In the current climate, anyone who is a cost centre is going to have a red pen put through their name. The problem with what we call output, the content-analysis metrics, it doesn’t really mean anything. How do we move to outtakes — what people think after seeing our output — and outcomes, what have people now done and how can we link them together?”
Observe real-world behaviours
As communicators, I think the big challenge we have is that we’re very good at putting numbers into words”, said Peter Allen of National Highways. “If we’re given the annual report, we can write a press release around those figures. What’s more difficult for us, is putting words into numbers. We can talk about better relationships or greater influence. But to actually translate that into a measurable outcome is quite a challenge for us.”
“What the industry needs to do now,” said Germaine, “is help business leaders see the connection between the work we do as PR experts and a measurable outcome that the c-suite cares about." She explained that Ketchum recently launched their approach integrating omniearnedID, a proprietary, industry-first platform dedicated to helping PR and business leaders understand the impact of earned media on brand sales. "The platform gives businesses the ability to see what works in PR and what doesn’t, and to optimise accordingly. And it gives PR leaders the evidence they need to get their fair share of the pie.”
Speaking toward the end of the session, Richard Bagnall — a PR veteran of 26 years — had some direct advice. “If you want to know what people think, ask them. Do the research. And tie that research into the activity, to see if there’s a cause and effect. If you want to know what people have done, you need to observe behaviours. That might mean observing digital analytics. Or it could mean observing people’s behaviour in the real world, such as whether they drive better. What we don’t want to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater. Everyone’s talking about tools such as AI. But we have to understand that those things have limitations. They look mostly at outputs. To understand outtakes and outcomes, we need to blend in other research, then apply critical thinking.”
To read more, vist ketchum.com/analytics/