KC Brown knew early on that he wanted to be in Public Relations, and specifically on the research side. Armed with a master’s degree in mass communication research, Brown is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to discussing the need for companies to measure their outputs and outcomes.
It’s a well-worn mantra in PR that if it can’t be measured it shouldn’t be done. But we all know that mantra is better said than practiced. Brown, senior vice president of Analysis Services with media monitoring, research and evaluation firm Cision, works with heads of PR and marketing at companies of all sizes to seize on the power of measurement to move the business needle. Diane Schwartz, group publisher of PR News, caught up with Brown recently to discuss the state of PR measurement.
PRN: When you hear the term “PR Measurement,” what comes to mind?
Brown: The future. I think of PR measurement as being the future of PR in the sense that measuring what PR is accomplishing is the single most important path to making PR practitioners into real business professionals. Our failure as an industry to get on that path is our biggest obstacle.
PRN: Why do you feel many of us in PR have failed at that so far?
Brown: Several reasons – some of them are pointing directly at us as PR professionals and some are circumstantial. Internally we’re not comfortable with the science part of the profession. And, we’re not comfortable that data can capture what we’re contributing. It goes well beyond the data. PR has such a long life – so the lifetime value of that contribution will never be captured in a time and place snapshot.
The external reason we’re not there yet is because PR has such a small slice of the communications budget which in turn is such a small slice of a corporate/brand budget. So people say, ‘[PR] doesn’t cost much, it must not contribute much, so it’s probably not worth it to measure it.’ PR has perpetually been passed over as non-measurable or not worth measuring. When the pressure is there from the business side to measure, PR people learn it fast and are able to show PR’s value.
PRN: Where would you rate PR professionals in terms of their knowledge of PR measurement?
Brown: They know what the metrics are but they don’t understand what the metrics mean to the business in general. Probably only 5% of CMOs have any knowledge of measuring PR but when they are exposed to it, they have an understanding of what those metrics mean to their business.
PRN: What do you find communicators want or need to measure the most these days?
Brown: People are always wanting “what’s next” so we’re doing good business selling measurement and analysis of social media. People still want media metrics. And PR people also need to be measuring how people are influenced.
PRN: Measurement is often seen as an activity that requires a lot of time, a lot of science, and investment of resources: do you feel this is the case?
Brown: It doesn’t have to be a lot of time and resources. It ends up turning into a lot of time for some people because they’re doing it on the fly or after the fact. The smartest, most effective way to measure is to make measurement part of the plan. Set specific goals ahead of time. Targeting specific outlets, for example, and not tracking everything. Focus on specific goals. For example, you say, ‘I’m going to try to convey specific messages and place at specific times and I’m going to measure that. Did I hit my targets from the metrics of timing, audience targeting, messaging, etc.’
PRN: What’s your advice for reporting bad news culled from measuring a PR activity?
Brown: Go naked. PR People will earn more respect by saying, ‘We went out with these pre-set targets, we tried to do this and we didn’t hit it.’ And if they admit they fell short, they gain respect that they might never have had. And my experience has been that they’ll actually get more resources.
PRN: Given the economic climate, what do you find are some smart and cost-effective ways to measure the effectiveness of a PR campaign?
Brown: If you’re not going to spend 3% to 9% of your PR budget on measurement, it’s not worth doing it. Best companies are spending 5-6% of their communications budget on measurement.
Editor’s Note: What percent of your budget is being spent on PR measurement? Email your response to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can meet KC Brown on June 3, when he’ll be moderating the Social Media Measurement panel at PR News’ Measurement Conference.