Speed 24 January 2012

For too long measurement has been an after-thought to the creative PR idea. It’s been the Achilles heel of an industry that’s historically battled to claim its place in the eyes of marketers and boardroom decision makers as a valid return on business investment.

The PR industry knows how to talk about the challenge of breaking away from the time-warped tradition of measuring success by column inches and become more analytical in our approach as the digitisation of media becomes ever stronger – but there’s been little action to applying the science.

In an industry that’s finding the measurement journey from adolescence to adulthood a challenging one, what’s the framework that PRs need to implement in order to create a powerful weapon in their armoury, and that of the marketers and brands it serves?

What do we need to do to get closer to proving that the quality of the campaign or editorial has compelled someone to think differently about a brand, made them more open to buying it in the future, or created on opportunity to sell and immediate reason to buy?

Here’s some of Speed’s core rules of engagement for inching towards a more commercially mature and resilient approach for evaluation:

Action first, execution second

Too often we pitch or plan campaigns around an idea borne out of our understanding of a business’ challenge and audiences. This is flawed.

The place to start for any business and PR agency is to determine the approach to evaluation right at the beginning of the process. This can only be done by looking first at the outcome the business is challenged with achieving and for the PR agency to have a complete view of marketing spend and activities. No longer can PR be activated in silo if it is to help drive the influence of reputation and commercial gain.

Data mining the influence flow of audiences

The pursuit of charting the power of influence is something that Speed’s Steve Earl and Stephen Waddington cover in their soon-to-be published book, Brand Anarchy. They go on to say ‘By understanding not just how people are networked but why they are networked, we can get closer to applying science to the way in which they exert influence. We can begin to measure that influence. And by knowing what buttons we might want to press there, we can make influence a more commercially-tangible component of reputation management’. The incorporation of a solid audience insight and planning tool service is vital to any PR core offering.

Develop a framework for greater standards and visibility

PR requires more than one metric and those metrics need to be aligned to the business objectives. Finding an appropriate solution will vary from business to business, but should be anchored in a framework that sits at the very heart of an agency’s proposition.

 In summary, I’ll leave you with a few final sound bites from Brand Anarchy: 

• The public relations industry has been obsessed with counting things so that the volume of output can be assessed

• But that doesn’t really tell you whether what has been invested in managing reputation is having the desired effect for the organisation. It doesn’t correlate with the degree of influence exerted

• Search technology makes this even more complicated, as perception can be formed and judgements made on the basis of a mechanistic evaluation of relevance, and even of reputation

• The public relations industry is responding with initiatives to modernise measurement to increase its commercial relevancy

• Absolute clinical measurement of reputation is impossible, but measurement of influence is becoming far sharper