PRSA NJ Spring Newsletter

The “New PR Measurement” Isn’t an Easy Lift, Even for PR Veterans

Christopher Biddle, APR

On March 19, 2014, the NJPRSA Senior Pros group held a panel workshop on “The New PR Measurement” to help demystify a topic that confounds even veteran PR professionals.
Speaking to a group of 12 PR professionals at Coyne Public Relations in Parsippany, Norman Booth with Coyne PR and Johna Burke with BurrellesLuce did a fine job of explaining how they measure PR results for clients. I was the panel moderator.

Some in the audience had hoped our panelists would unlock the secrets of the “new PR measurement,” a set of prototype standards created by the same group of global PR giants (including PRSA) that established the Barcelona Principles in 2009.

We learned, however, that there remains a great divide between the new measurement standards, which are currently being tested by four corporate behemoths, and the real world of PR measurement as it exists today.

Clearly, everyone who is serious about measuring the bottom-line outcomes of PR campaigns and programs has got their work cut out for them. No all-purpose, measurement tool kit is available for purchase.

I opened the panel session with an overview of the Barcelona Principles and their application to the work we do as PR practitioners. My big takeaway from the millions of words that have been written on this subject is this:

The goals of our PR programs should be tied to—and directly support—the bottom-line organizational goals of our clients or employers. Then it’s our job to measure the outcomes of those programs to demonstrate their effectiveness and, hopefully, success.

The biggest conundrum in the new world of measurement is how to assign a meaningful value to the outcomes we engineer. As both Norman and Johna pointed out, repeatedly, the CFOs and CEOs of this world have a profound bottom-line bias. The CFO wants to see a spreadsheet with the value of PR translated into precise dollar equivalents. The CEO wants the same, but in an executive-summary, bullet format.

Which is why, Norman told us, Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) are NOT dead, despite declarations to the contrary by proponents of the “new measurement.” Why aren’t AVEs dead? They are an accepted method for turning earned media coverage into the equivalent value of advertising in the same space. As such, they are still embraced by many corporate clients who can justify their expenditures precisely because they can see the dollar value of our work. To date, nothing has replaced them.

But how does one value a “retweet,” or a “like,” or a documented change in attitude by a target audience? Marketers sell products, and sales translate easily into dollars. But PR pros sell “ideas,” for lack of a better term, which defy such precise valuation.

And so we find ourselves in transitional bog of conflicting ideas about measurement. One foot is stuck in the muck of traditional metrics, most notably AVEs, while the other foot seeks an uncertain purchase in the next step forward.

“Full adoption of the Barcelona Principles will take time and continue to evolve,” Norman explained. “Consider the value of traditional ROI as an intermediary step. Treat AVE for what it is, but do not over- or under-emphasize the metric in the absence of viable alternatives.”

I drew this common-sense conclusion from the panel discussion:

Closely align your PR objectives with your client’s organizational goals. In the process of developing those objectives, discuss with your client how their desired outcomes can be measured. Then ask which metrics (data you can generate using available measurement tools) they will accept to measure your success. Finally, make these metrics an integral part of your client agreement.

The views expressed in this article are strictly those of the author, Christopher Biddle, who is President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations LLC in Moorestown, NJ. You will find a list of PR measurement resources on his website.

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