For all the talk in the PR industry about best practices, measurement remains siloed according to the marketing discipline. We all understand the power of true integration among the various marketing functions. Yet fragmentation is often built literally into an organization’s structure. Key performance indicators (KPIs) assigned per function or per agency often don’t link up to overarching business objectives. So marketing functions—including PR—end up reporting their bits of “data,” while missing the bigger insights that tie to impact.
Breaking out of these silos is the first step toward more effectively reporting ROI. Embracing more diverse sets of data is the second.
Historically, PR has focused on earned media. This remains core to our value, particularly given shifts in the Google algorithm that favor content written for humans, not machines.
Yet the measures associated with earned media represent only one “stream” of data relevant to PR’s impact. Earned media must be analyzed in the context of other streams of data; most critically, those generated by social media and search.
Brands and organizations invest differently in assessing these varied streams.
So how can PR pros bridge the silos and engage different data streams so they can better report to the C-suite? Here are six steps to consider:
• Have a big picture discussion with your clients (internal or external) and partners regarding what should be measured. There are a million data points to capture. Don’t get buried in measuring things that may not matter. Be laser-focused in identifying which will offer insights that connect to high-level outcomes.
• Ensure that all relevant stakeholders are around the table and treat integration as more than a platitude. The only way to effectively assess ROI today is to make integration a reality, not a buzzword.
Meaningful cross-functional dialogues must occur about shared measures that ladder up to business-level outcomes, and which data can be analyzed to get there.
• Establish a common language before you establish key performance indicators. Each marketing discipline has its jargon. Today’s measurement landscape requires broader fluency. A common language around measures that matter will keep different marketing functions from retreating to their silos and improve effectiveness in talking ROI at the highest level of the company.
• Get comfortable with “apples” and “oranges.” Data today is not neat or tidy. It is wildly varied and constantly multiplying. PR pros must get comfortable assessing apples and oranges in the same context.
We should focus on deriving insights about how disparate data points relate, rather than worrying that they don’t line up perfectly in a spreadsheet.
• Insist on a mix of qualitative and quantitative metrics. PR must expand its reporting of tangible, quantitative metrics. But we must also insist on the importance of qualitative measures: the power of an online recommendation from a friend; the impact of a “third party endorsement” from a top product reviewer; the intangibles of trust built by a brand. And we must advocate for creative ways to assess “soft” measures.
• Demand more research dollars for all marketing stakeholders. PR is still an outlier when it comes to making dollars available for strategic research. Costs for research and analytics are a given in advertising or media buying (including the all-important human capital).
PR must insist on the fiscal running room required to dig deeper, which means funding for the right platforms and people.
To communicate ROI in ways that senior leaders will understand, we must translate apples and oranges into insights—and tie insights to outcomes.
This requires organizational change, a common language, a commitment to shared accountability and a comfort level with disparate streams of data. It also requires communicators to take a much more active role in leading the measurement discussion.
Special shout-out to Don Kline, president, 8 Box Media, for suggesting this article.
Anne Green is president-CEO of CooperKatz & Company Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the September 29, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.