Ricky Vazquez, Ogilvy PR - A question of measurement

The PR industry needs to come together to agree some parameters to evaluate effectiveness.

The words 'Achilles' and 'heel' often come to mind when PR professionals discuss measurement. How do the self-proclaimed owners of 'earned media' evaluate effectiveness when we are often perceived to measure output rather than outcomes, even in a digital age?

Those who are implementing social media, citizen journalism, digital PR campaigns - call it what you will - have for too long responded with a most dissatisfying answer. As the digital opportunities form and reform with each new blog post, video upload and 140-character musing, we have steadily moved towards the classic moment when a big question has to be addressed. How will we measure it?

In these difficult economic times, where budgets are being re-evaluated and ROI is even more scrutinised, we as an industry need to justify our slice of marketing budgets by focusing not solely on output (CPM, AVE, etc) but on the ability to measure effectiveness like never before.

As an agency that has turned inside out to transform itself into an organisation where digital influence runs through everything we do, this has been at the forefront of our minds. According to a study by US social software firm Mzinga, 79 per cent of social media campaigns are not measured. This is a huge opportunity for those of us who focus on evaluation when analysing the digital fruits of our labour. How we measure the impact of social media is a question that is not only fundamental, but is answerable in the here and now, with software doing a good proportion of the legwork.

We do have an opportunity to be more rigorous, given the rise of technology solutions. At a tactical level, the adoption of social media releases (SMR), for example, has proved invaluable in shaping the way we now engage with stakeholders and measure the impact of our outreach. While working on the 50th anniversary of Barbie earlier this year, a project targeting multiple international markets, we were able to shape the campaign around the creation and distribution of broadcast and online video content via the SMR, ensuring the story reached a global audience in a cost-effective, measurable and impactful way.

The ability to tag, monitor and measure the impact of video content in particular is also shaping the way brands are leveraging this most powerful of communications tools. As the thirst for video continues to grow, so has the need to demonstrate to clients its effectiveness in helping to communicate the brand's key messages. The adage that 'good content will always find an audience' still rings true, but now is the time for us to embrace the ability to demonstrate the impact of this content, rather than focus disproportionately on the 'perceived' effectiveness and output of our campaigns. The rules of third-party engagement have evolved rather than revolutionised over the past few years, providing PR with the ability to tangibly quantify behavioural change through more scientific metrics.

The Holy Grail is simplicity and comparability in media measurement. As a result, John Bell, president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and an Ogilvy digital leader, developed our Conversation Impact model. Born out of a need to align more closely to accepted marketing and reputation-building models, particularly the 'purchasing funnel', it places a bigger emphasis on measuring behavioural change, rather than focusing solely on 'traditional' metrics. This has to be the way forward. The challenge is for us all to focus on the big objectives and outcomes while forensically exploring the granular range of new digital tools to support us in this process.

It's about time we who deal in social communications do the same. We need to come together in an 'open-crowd-wiki-sourced' approach and set some benchmarks and agreed parameters. We should be able to - it is 'social' media after all.

- Ricky Vazquez is head of broadcast, 360 Digital Influence, at Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

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