No Measurement Consistency by PR Pros

While the vast majority of communicators now measure their PR efforts, including social media, many of them continue to measure the wrong metrics, according to a new PR News survey.

What’s more, 66% of respondents have never heard of the Barcelona Principles, and 40% don’t set goals for social media—and the overwhelming majority of those who do look at “activity,” and “engagement,” rather than specific outcomes.

Then there’s the glass-half-full perspective. More than half of C-level managers now ask for traditional PR and social media measurement reports. That means that nearly an equal percentage don’t. Still, in the annals of PR measurement, even just half of managers asking for reports could be construed as encouraging.

“Companies are getting smarter” when it comes to PR measurement, said Sandra Fathi, president of Affect, who helped develop the study. “A few years ago, there was a sense of, ‘We need to be at the party.’ Now, executives are saying, ‘Which party shall we go to, because we can’t be at all. Which provides the biggest payoff?’”



The survey, titled “How—and Whether—PR Practitioners Are Measuring the Effectiveness of Their Work,” was distributed in March. It produced 145 responses from the communications field.

Unlike, say, a few years ago—when many PR pros were still reluctant to measure their efforts—measurement has finally started to permeate the PR discipline, fueled by the analytics and data that are baked into online media programming.

Ninety-five percent of respondents are currently measuring their PR efforts, including social media. That’s the good news. The bad news? PR folks are measuring the wrong channels.

Swing a cat and you can find a PR or marketing professional talking about the importance of “engagement.” But engagement is a fallacy when it comes to PR metrics. While 76% of the respondents said they are measuring things like the number of retweets or the number of followers for their Facebook or Twitter accounts, just 26% of respondents said they are measuring “business outcomes,” including new customers and revenue generation.

“Activity doesn’t mean anything,” Fathi said. “There’s isn’t any value in activity if it doesn’t drive business outcomes.”

Rather than preoccupy themselves with how many retweets their brands are generating, PR pros have to learn how to track a retweet or a follower to a legitimate conclusion. Most PR pros “haven’t yet made the connection between the tweet and how to turn the person who made the tweet into a customer,” Fathi said, adding that PR pros have to immerse themselves in their organization’s sales funnel.

Communicators “need to understand how to follow the bread crumbs,” Fathi said. “How do you get a tweet from someone who then might go to your website or an event, who then becomes a customer and makes a purchase? All too often PR pros stop at, ‘Hey, they retweeted us.’”

Mark Stouse, VP of Global Connect at BMC Software, amplified that notion. “Our professional metrics are tactical measurements that have no relevance to a corporate income statement,” he said. “We must start with metrics and logic paths that the business already uses and respects, and then work back to connect those with the functional metrics. CXOs do not take communications and many marketing metrics seriously because they are not connected, correlated or seen as causal to business outcomes.”

The closer PR pros are able to get to the end of the sales funnel, the more value they will demonstrate and, subsequently, the more dollars they will land when budget season arrives.

The survey also found that a majority of PR pros have not heard of The Barcelona Principles, a guide for measurement and evaluation of PR. This suggests there needs to be a lot more education about the principles (see story on page 1).

Another challenge for PR pros is how to bring sophistication to their social platforms.

The survey found that 60% of respondents either had no budget for social media efforts or that the allocation of budget for those efforts was essentially arbitrary. PRN


Sandra Fathi,; Mark Stouse,

This article originally appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.

  • Robert White

    Fahti says “There’s isn’t any value in activity if it doesn’t drive business outcomes.” – But why should PR be responsible for “business outcomes”, if by which she means sales? PR isn’t about selling and tying in a correlation between PR activity and sales itself is problematic. Meaningful PR content that is shared and take-up in news readership and social media engagement, as well as positive outcomes from surveys on brand and company activities are what matters and strengthen a company’s reputation – and all those things can be and should be measured.

    But when someone starts insisting PR should be about selling and proving customers are coming on board directly because of PR, then its focus – and value – is lost. Good PR strategy and content are first and foremost based on a company’s business plans, so its activity is already business driven. PR does not drive business outcomes and I think it’s a false claim/charge to assert.

    For PR to dictate to a business what it should be doing is to assume that the management of a company responsible for the commercial drivers of what will its commercial success don’t have a clue about what they’re doing.

    PR already focuses on specific business plans and translates them into content. I find it hard to believe that the problem is the activity itself but, rather, as the article and and survey show, not enough measurement is being done.

    As long as PR provides good, compelling content and engagement – and measures these in a number of ways – it can be shown whether or not a reputation grows or diminishes. These all influence brand perception and take-up of the brand (or not).

    But PR should never be confused for sales or marketing or held accountable to “drive” business (though PR should have a place on management and executive boards, since it’s the only business function solely focused on reputation, other departments and business areas are not). Otherwise we in PR would be in business itself, not in public relations. Our business, however, is reputation management – that is a sufficient outcome, goal and value, surely?

    As for any overlap in sales, marketing and PR, such as with awards, they remain essentially distinctive activities in that the first two are about promotion for selling – and PR is not, nor should it be, However, ask most PR practitioners in business and you’ll find we also generate a lot of the content for other channels as well, because often we are the ones who are the writers in the teams; I’ve never found a large marketing team with writers other than those who are within the PR function or, otherwise, the writing is always outsourced.

    For PR to drive business outcomes is to diminish and destroy the innate value it offers to an organisation: the protection and growth of reputation through content and engagement that matters (and, yes, is/must be measured).