Measurement Hall of Fame Inductees’ PR Tracking Insights: Q&A With the Experts

Contrary to conventional wisdom, PR measurement should inspire (rather than thwart) creativity. PR measurement tends to work best when automation is wed to the human touch. Social channels, of course, are difficult to measure, but if PR execs don’t start to think strategically about social media their brands may go by the wayside altogether. These are just a few sage words of advice about PR measurement from this year’s PR Measurement Hall of Fame inductees.

The 2013 Hall of Fame inductees will be honored during PR News ’ PR Measurement Conference, which takes place May 15 at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C.

For a primer on the conference we spoke with several of this year’s inductees to get their take on where the pendulum is swinging on PR measurement.

PR News: What are some of the major trends in PR measurement right now?

Mark Weiner: The biggest trend is what I call ‘the second wave’ of social media listening, engagement and analytics. The first wave was driven by indiscriminate, real-time content gathering, which led to cascades of irrelevant content and inaccurate data. Unfortunately, the first wave is marked by automation that is too literal in its thinking and unable to uncover context or to recognize human intentions.

The second wave marries the speed and consistency of automation with the understanding and insights only humans provide. The challenge of the second wave is exacerbated by the need for “small data” to drive “big data” (itself a major trend in business generally). “Big data” seeks to correlate a variety of data streams to uncover opportunities for better business decision-making. In this case, PR or social media data may reveal opportunities for product development or customer service.

David Michaelson: The primary trend in measurement today is the movement to create standard measures for public relations activities. This is a critical effort that will hopefully result in the ability to create comparative measures for all stages of the public-relations process, from outputs to outcomes to outtakes.

Donald K. Wright: Probably the biggest trend is the movement to convince PR practitioners to measure. Research I’ve conducted each year since 2005 clearly shows there is not nearly enough measurement taking place in our field and, unfortunately, when practitioners do measure, it often involves use of AVEs and/or mainly measures of communications outputs (instead of outcomes).

PR News: What are the biggest misconceptions about PR measurement?

Jim Fetig: In the early days, the C-suite thought it was all smoke and mirrors. We had to walk them through the methodology to establish credibility.

Also, without extensive surveys, there are many things that can’t be measured with media metrics. Audience attitudes themselves and the degree of sentiment such as brand affinity are among things that can’t be measured.

Diane Lennox: AVEs (ad value equivalency). Let’s make them go away. Even the most advanced vendors of measurement tools and services—the ones sitting on the Barcelona panels, who shouted that AVEs must die—still offer it to clients who insist.

It simply makes no sense to compare ad space with media coverage without taking into account the content, let alone the fact that the dollar figures from rate cards are rarely applied in reality. It’s not just inaccurate, it allows agencies to actually inflate their value by applying a high dollar figure to the ad space and then co-opting for PR. I’ve heard one expert call it the biggest lie in PR.

PR News: PR pros are inundated with measurement tools these days. How do they know which ones to deploy and which ones to forego?

Fetig: You can be a bleeding-edge type or a fast follower. I prefer the latter, so that I can hang back a bit and find out what works before jumping in. It saves time and money. I once was told that we needed to be involved in Second Life at a cost of nearly $1 million. I waited and was glad I did.

Lennox: The tool will always depend on what you are trying to measure, as well as your tolerance for error. If your goal is to monitor your reputation across a wide range of traditional and social media, you may need to look at some of the more sophisticated services that offer a hybrid approach that blends automated and human coding.

PR News: What are the most effective ways that PR pros can measure the use of social channels, particularly when it comes to demonstrating their value to the C-suite?

Lennox: It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you set a clear objective that is achievable, measurable, and aligns with the goals of your organization—a tall order, perhaps—the measurement approach should define itself. Social channels, like any media, have strengths and weaknesses. Some have their own measurement built in.

Wright: Although social channels are more difficult to measure than traditional media (newspapers, radio, TV, etc.), the industry has to move in that direction because, quite frankly, that’s how people are communicating today. Unfortunately, most measurement budgets are not large enough to permit effective measurement of social and other emerging media.

PR News: Looking a bit into the future, will PR pros have to be quasi accountants/analytics experts to get a handle on PR measurement?

Michaelson: Absolutely not, Measurement provides guidance, but is not a substitute for solid communication skills, great insights, solid instincts and expertise.

Weiner: Just as the current scope of PR allows for a mix of specialties including investor relations, and government affairs at agencies, corporations, NGOs, it also provides a niche for a small group of public-relations researchers and consultants.

While this tiny subset may constitute a population of less than one-half of one-percent of the profession, the future promises an emerging specialty group devoted to the science of public relations. PRN(Get the latest best practices in PR measurement and their real-world applications at PR News’ PR Measurement Conference. To register for the event, please go to

PR News’ 2013 Measurement Hall of Fame Inductees

Jim Fetig

Chief, External

Relations (recently retired)

Corporation for National and Community Service


Diane Lennox

PR Services Manager



David Michaelson

Managing Director

Teneo Strategy


Katie Paine

Chief Marketing Officer, News Group

Chairman & Founder, Salience/KDPaine & Partners


Mark Weiner


PRIME Research


Donald K. Wright

Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations

Boston University’s College of Communication