Packed House in D.C. Proves Metrics Are Top of Mind Among PR Pros

Nearly 300 communications professionals intent on sharpening their measurement skills jammed a ballroom at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for the March 1 PR News PR Measurement Conference. Central to the day’s sessions were the Barcelona Principles, the seven measurement tenets established by five communications bodies last year.

According to presenter Angela Jeffrey, VP of editorial research at VMS, one of the most challenging of those principles is Barcelona Principle No. 5: "AVE’s (Ad Value Equivalents) are not the value of public relations." PR pros must go beyond AVEs, and consider a “palette of valid metrics” to help further the value of PR, Jeffrey said.

Tim Marklein, EVP of measurement and strategy at Weber Shandwick, said that CEOs aren’t buying metrics like AVEs that aren’t demonstrably moving the business needle. “The ‘so what’ factor has never been higher” with top management, said Marklein. How to negate that factor? “Give the C-suite two or three metrics that matter to them, not the 20 that matter to you,” he said.

Marklein said it may surprise PR pros that top management sometimes “gets it” more than communications people. “They know what drives the business and what PR metrics are most relevant to achieving that,” he said.

Marklein went on to say that PR pros can get that seat in the C-suite by talking about business results and issues that are “bigger than what is technically under your control.”

Getting Past the Chaos

In the “Media Measurement: From Mainstream to Social Media” session, Israel Mirsky, EVP of emerging media and technology at Porter Novelli, said that PR is a "chaotic landscape," and getting messages out successfully is getting harder. And social media, according to Mirsky, might not be the answer. “Can anyone explain to me how social media makes marketing cheaper?” Mirsky asked. He did impart some social media best practices, including:

  • Know what you’re looking at
  • Trust no one but yourself in determining metrics
  • Dedicate yourself to constant improvement

Conference Keynote: Inside the GM Crisis

Lunch keynoter Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications at General Motors, gave an inside look into the handling of the GM Chapter 11 crisis, and how social media played a part in the company’s communication efforts. One big key: “Our CEO was familiar with social media, and embraced it as a communications platform,” said Henige.

Now that GM is on the rise, so is measurement within the company. "We do so much research, we can have nearly too much data and it can be overwhelming,” Henige said, adding that communications’ integration with marketing at GM helps both departments understand analytics better. But the work goes on. “We still need to show value to leadership,” said Henige. “It’s up to us to get them the data they need.”

Social Media ROI

Proving ROI from social media efforts has many PR pros vexed. But Jay Hamilton, senior director of digital media at Marriott International, said he has a proven social media outlet in CEO Bill Marriott’s blog. Marriott is 78 years old and doesn’t type, so his blog is dictated into a recorder, said Hamilton. Nevertheless, people read what Marriott has to say—to the tune of 12 million Marriott Web site visitors per year.

Heidi Sullivan, VP of media research at Cision, said identifying influencers, locating communities and determining share of conversation will all lead to picking the right metrics to track. And don’t get too bogged down in more complex measurement: “Something as basic as audience size can have a place on your dashboard,” said Sullivan.

And speaking of dashboards, KDPaine & Partners CEO Katie Paine ended the day with a dashboard confessional, revealing which metrics matter when showing results to the C-suite. “You want to get management in a room and ask them, ‘When you say PR kicked butt last month, what exactly did you mean?’” said Paine. Only then will you get metrics the C-suite will embrace.

Hall of Fame

A highlight of the day was the induction of five PR measurement notables into the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame. Frank Ovaitt of Makovsky + Company; Tim Marklein of Weber Shandwick; Donna Coletti of Texas Instruments; Kathy Collins of Harris Interactive; and Dr. James Grunig of the University of Maryland were honored for their contributions to advancing the science of PR measurement.

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