Measurement Redux: PR’s Holy Grail Still Tests Business Intangibles

Calling measurement the Holy Grail of PR is as cliché as revisiting the struggle to get a seat at the table, yet somehow the term's continued relevance (despite drastic changes to the communications landscape) justifies its use and abuse. Along with the Holy Grail tag often comes other jargon (outputs, outcomes, etc.), whose ubiquitous mentions fail to address the underlying confusion as to what really matters when quantifying the impact of a particular initiative (for definitions of measurement jargon, see sidebar). The biggest problem with these semantic discrepancies? As Institute for Public Relations' CEO Frank Ovaitt puts it, "There is so much buzz and so little clarity." Indeed, regardless of word choice, effective measurement and evaluation is further complicated by the need to apply these processes to an organization's most valuable and intangible PR- related assets: reputation and trust among stakeholders. "Stakeholder concerns have greatly increased regarding the role of business and its influence on society," says Linda Locke, group head of reputation and issues management for MasterCard Worldwide. "You may be able to control the imagery, but you can't control perceptions." Because PR efforts drive these intangible business components, enhancing reputation in quantifiable ways and proving PR's bottom-line contributions directly translates to the liberties the C-suite bestows upon communicators--not to mention the trust stakeholders have in individual organizations. "Research and evaluation are essential to the 'return-on-what?' conversation," says Mark Weiner, CEO of PRIME Research North America. "[They] help decision-makers link results to objectives; constructs a framework around which future plans can be built, builds trust; and quantifies the degree to which the program delivered value and return-on- investment." Measuring PR's ROI encompasses three deliverables: improving efficiency, avoiding catastrophic costs through crisis planning and driving profitable revenue (read: linking PR to sales). "ROI and value assessment tell you how you're doing, but also what can be done to improve," Weiner says. PR Value Assessment When addressing the age-old measurement conundrum of quantifying PR's value to the organization, Weiner recommends "uncovering your secret value system," which includes: Organizational goals and who they relate to PR Professional and departmental attributes Most credible media Most compelling messages Standards of PR effectiveness The extent to which PR currently satisfies executives' preferences, needs and expectations In terms of the latter driver, communications professionals can conduct executive audits--brief but structured interviews with management--to "gain mutual understanding, assess needs and preferences, and benchmark performance and improve over time," Weiner says. "Results are reported and used to initiate dialogue, to set objectives, to reduce risk and to prove [PR's] value and ROI." Messages + Stakeholder Perceptions = Reputation The equation is straightforward, but reading between the lines is as much an art as it is a science. After all, so many things contribute to stakeholders' perceptions of an organization, including media coverage and individual experiences with the brand. The former contributor is a primary component of measurement. But it's important that executives remember media is only one component of reputation, and therefore only one component of measurement. To paint a comprehensive picture of reputation measurement, John Gilfeather, EVP of TNS, identifies seven steps that involve gathering information about stakeholder perceptions and analyzing it to diagnose the organization's strength. 1. Clearly define objectives: Measure all components of reputation, provide communications guidance and establish benchmarks. 2. Clearly define stakeholders: They must be findable, reachable and trackable. 3. Develop clear questionnaires: These surveys should address stakeholders' knowledge (awareness, familiarity, identity), contain evaluations (overall impressions, strengths/weaknesses, characteristics) and specify behaviors (buy stock, buy products/services, recommend employment, recommend joint ventures). 4. Use the right interviewers: "Not all respondents are created equal, and not all interviewers are created equal," Gilfeather says. "Matching respondents to interviewers is critical." 5. Analyze results/perceptions: "The logic of the questionnaire creates the logic of the [measurement] report," Gilfeather says. "The bottom-line: What should the company do differently based on results?" 6. Report results clearly: All information surrounding a company's reputation must be included in reporting --including negative perceptions. "To have credibility, you have to release the good and bad news," Locke says. 7. Establish a schedule for tracking: Should you track stakeholder perceptions continuously? Annually? Around specific announcements? The answer is different for every company. Model Behavior While all stakeholder perceptions contribute to an organization's reputation, media is especially critical to measurement and evaluation, if only for the tangible, quantifiable nature of coverage. "We believe the media is important in shaping the beliefs of stakeholders about our company," Locke says. "By carefully dissecting relevant, credible media, we can create an 'indirect' experience with our brand." To use media analytics, vendors offering dashboards pop up daily, using algorithmic and econometrical modeling to quantify media coverage's effect on other stakeholders' feelings about the company. Translation: You can buy a service that tracks the impact of coverage, brand relevance and prominence, changes over time, risks, reputation equity, etc. These service providers do the math for you, but it's up to you to take these metrics and apply them to future initiatives and messaging strategies. Ultimately, Locke's prescription for success is simple: "Behave well, and communicate what matters." PRN CONTACTS: Linda Locke,; Mark Weiner,; John Gilfeather,; Frank Ovaitt, Translating Measurement Jargon Outputs: What is said, quantified by analyzing content based on: Favorability Prominence Placement Outtakes: What the audience understands/takes away, quantified by: Message recall Assimilation of key facts Outcomes: What the specific communications produces, including: Leads Consideration Sales Increased stock value Changes in awareness, attitudes, behaviors, etc. Outgrowth: The cumulative effect of all communications on an organization's reputation: How your communications improved the organization's reputation among all stakeholders Source: John Gilfeather, EVP, TNS

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