For decades, the public relations industry has wrestled with the question of measurement. Unlike its brethren disciplines of advertising and marketing, public relations counselors have long struggled to properly position public relations programs in quantifiable terms.
With so many messages hitting so many of the same audiences targeted by PR programs in so many ways, is it even possible to fully attribute success in influencing awareness, understanding, attitudes, and behaviors to PR alone? The answer is a resolute but necessarily qualified “yes.”
Last year, the Institute of Public Relations released The Barcelona Principles of PR Measurement. These principles form an excellent basis for measuring thoughtful public relations programming. They emphasize the importance of goal setting, recognize that social media measurement is as important as traditional media relations measurement, and call for inclusion of measured public relations efforts as part of an organization’s total business communications mix.
But the point that caught my attention most in The Barcelona Principles was buried in the fifth of seven principles: Measuring Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Media Results. My first reaction to this was a “duh,” but then I realized how so many of my former colleagues and clients have looked for proof of PR success in the forms of quantitative and qualitative media clips. To this day, most agencies are somewhat forced to produce this hard evidence of successful media outreach. While this evidence can in fact validate effort and expertise in gaining favorable placements, at the proverbial “end of the day,” only outcomes really matter.
Does influencer group A have a better understanding of your issue position? Does target consumer group B see your organization’s brand in a more favorable light? Did decision maker group C actually attribute a PR-driven experience as the reason for trying a product? The Principles make the point that outcomes can only be measured through valid research tools, but, in my own experience, there are other real world outcomes more palpable than formal research:
- Sales force feedback: Nothing is more powerful in product/service public relations programming than field sales feedback pointing to the impact a specific article, PR-driven event, or other tactic played in helping drive a sale. While PR won’t (and probably shouldn’t) get the credit it deserves in generating sales, it often can play a vital role in creating, or at least contributing to, a favorable sales message environment.
- Executive suite feedback: This is another tough crowd, but internal communications efforts in particular are often “measured” by what your C-level executives hear from the rank and file, and this is another qualitative but vital source of PR measurement. Try showing a CEO an internal study that says one thing versus their own experience hearing and believing another, based on random employee conversations, and see which one wins out most of the time. For better or worse, PR efforts (both good and bad) can be improperly validated by this audience – a reality that PR counselors instinctively know and should plan to get in front of and address.
Of course, the inherent issue with measuring external PR efforts is that they are usually and necessarily a part of a larger communications mix. This makes knowledge, attitude or behavior change attribution of any kind difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint to a specific PR success.
But The Barcelona Principles represent a step in the right direction of continuing to try. What do you think of the Principles?