Measurement Is Critical to PR. ‘Vanity Metrics’ Are Not.

PR pros can be forgiven for thinking that achieving measurement success is like rolling a peanut up a hill. PR measurement has been around in one form or another for decades, often causing frustration and false starts among communicators. However, in the last few years, what with the growing demand from the C-suite for better accountability, communicators have had to enhance their ability to track their PR campaigns and locate the (sometimes elusive) ROI.

The Web, which is predicated on analytics, has enabled PR execs to get more comfortable playing the numbers game and, perhaps more important, giving meaning to the numbers as they relate to corporate goals and financial objectives. The advent of social media, of course, has brought a new set of measurement tools that PR pros need to adopt. To get a better sense for where the PR measurement pendulum is now swinging, we recruited a few of this year’s PR Measurement Hall of Fame inductees to provide their take on how communicators can improve their measurement strategies. The inductees will be honored at PR News’ Measurement Conference, which takes place next week (April 8) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

PR News: What kind of PR metrics are senior leaders looking for right now, and how are those demands changing?

Don Bartholomew

Don Bartholomew, Senior VP, Digital & Social Media Research, Ketchum

Bartholomew: Senior leaders are not looking for PR metrics per se, they are more interested in business metrics. What they really want is connection—show me how PR is connected to business outcomes. Demonstrate how PR is helping drive the business or organization forward. If you go into a CEO’s office and he or she asks ‘How are we doing in PR’, and you respond, ‘Great, we got 14.3 million impressions this month,’ that person has absolutely no idea of how that is connected to the business or even if that is good or bad. You have to speak the language of senior executives if you hope to gain any traction and respect.

Pauline Draper-Watts
Pauline Draper-Watts

Pauline Draper-Watts, Executive VP, Global Lead, Measurement and Analytics, Edelman Berland

Draper-Watts: We moved away from the thumb value of the clip book and Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) many years ago but some still want to see volume metrics, albeit in a different form.

One of the big changes is the timeliness of the data. If there has been a major announcement, clients want a read on how it is coming across in real-time. Linked with this, many organizations expect data to be replicated across markets and to be accompanied with insights on what is happening and what to do as a result.

PR News: In an increasingly globalized economy, do you see a consensus emerging among major companies and PR agencies regarding the top PR metrics for companies to track?

Bartholomew: Consensus might be a little too strong, but for the first time we do have a concerted cross-industry effort to provide standard definitions for traditional and social media metrics. Top companies like Dell, GM, Southwest Airlines, and others, as well as a variety of industry associations in advertising, public relations, digital analytics, and word-of-mouth have come together in groups with names like the Coalition and the Conclave. I would suggest two sources to learn more about these important efforts, the Institute for Public Relations website and the website for the Conclave group, which is

Jeffrey_Angela copy
Angela Jeffrey

Angela Jeffrey, Managing Director, U.S., Salience Insight

Jeffrey: I do not currently see, and don’t expect to see, agreement on any particular PR index score since the best scores are customized for the client.

However, there is much more agreement on the quantitative and qualitative variables that must be part of any given measurement program, as seen from the Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards and the Social Media Measurement Conclave.

PR News: What are some of the social media metrics that brands and organizations are starting to track and that go beyond mere followers?

Bartholomew: Likes and follows are good examples of “Vanity Metrics.” They mean very little but everyone wishes their numbers were higher. Most progressive brands and organizations are, at a minimum, doing a good job of capturing engagement metrics like interaction rate, retweets/1,000 followers or virality.

Many organizations are trying to drive more toward outcomes—are we shaping opinions, attitudes, beliefs or behaviors? Tracking conversions, both micro and macro, is also common with more progressive efforts.

Jeffrey: Brands and organizations are well into measuring the levels of engagement, quality of conversations and influence of a person posting or blogging. More important, they are tracking the sources and intensity of opinions and advocacy and, ultimately, the impact and value of social media alongside other forms of communication.

PR News: What are the most effective ways to integrate both offline and online metrics?

Draper-Watts: The offline metrics that are gained from survey research that allows you to really determine the effect of your activity.

For instance, if you are looking at trust in an organization, you can communicate this through the media and through your actions, but it is not until you ask someone about trust in your organization that you can effectively measure it.

While online conversation provides valuable insights, it doesn’t necessary address the questions you wish to pose. When we start integrating the outputs with the outcomes, we start to see what is helping to drive the business (or the specific objectives) forward.

PR News: What’s a good measurement strategy for companies with limited resources that have reached their limitation with free online tools and analytics?

Bartholomew: The basics are very inexpensive. Make sure programs and initiatives contain measurable objectives. Ensure those measurable objectives are aligned with organizational or business objectives.

Jeffrey: The best measurement strategy for any company, whether or not it has limited resources, is to clearly define goals and objectives for the organization and PR campaign; set KPIs that relate directly to them; and choose a couple of measurement tools to measure only what matters most.

PR News: What baseline measurement tools and skills must all PR pros master if they intend to tie their work to organizational goals?

Bartholomew: It is not really a tool issue. The skills are along the lines of speaking the language of business and creating a measurement narrative that resonates with senior leaders. You also really need to understand how PR works to persuade and influence how consumers make buying decisions and how the business operates and makes money.

Draper-Watts: Even before considering measurement tools, we need to understand the business objectives and organizational goals so as to develop a measurement strategy that will deliver on these objectives.

The measurement associated with corporate reputation may look very different to that of driving sales. It is important to understand what is (and is not) possible, what is already being done within the organization and what funds are available for measurement.


Don Bartholomew,; Pauline Draper-Watts,; Angela Jeffrey,

 This article originally appeared in the March 31, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.