Meaningful Metrics and Desired Outcomes: Q&A With Dr. Jim Macnamara

Dr. Jim Mcnamara

True engagement is a deep psychological concept. It's the central link in a whole model of influencing behavior, says Dr. Jim Macnamara, PhD, Professor of Public Communication and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. If a company is engaging with its audience and building psychological and emotional bonds, it's a 100 times more likely that desired outcomes will be met. And no metric resonates better with senior leaders than desired outcomes.

Dr. Macnamara will discuss developments in engagement standards, outcomes and more during a free PR News/CARMA International webinar on April 16, from 4-5 p.m. EST. The webinar, "Meaningful Metrics – Understanding Engagement, Influence and Reach," will be moderated by PR News group editor Matthew Schwartz. Dr. Macnamara offers a preview of the webinar in the following Q&A.

PR News: What's the most significant change in the kinds of metrics senior leaders want to see from communications professionals?

Dr. Jim Macnamara: I think there are two very significant changes in terms of what senior management expects in terms of metrics for PR and corporate communication.

First, senior management no longer wants to see just reporting of outputs—such as counts of all the media releases put out or even the media stories published and broadcast or even how people attended an event. They want to see the outcomes—what happened as a result of the outputs, such as increases in awareness, changes in attitudes or, ideally, desired changes in behavior such as buying a product or service or complying with a campaign message such as get fit or drive more slowly.

The second significant change is that senior management are no longer prepared to tolerate made-up metrics and fake measures such as AVEs or some PR firm’s proprietary "influence score." They expect reliable data based on social science research methods. 

PR News: What is the best way for PR pros to track developments in measurement standards?

Dr. Macnamara: I would hope that the work being done on measurement standards is filtering down to the PR industry organizations in most countries, so practitioners should be able to learn about what is being developed through their local PR institutes and associations. But, in addition, there is excellent information being regularly posted on the Web sites of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation (AMEC), as well as on specialist Web sites set up such as

PR News: What is the first step a PR pro needs to make to ensure that metrics are linked to real business outcomes?

Dr. Macnamara: Linking PR and corporate communication activities to organization or business is the million-dollar question for practitioners. Frankly, we have to acknowledge that it’s now easy, for at least three reasons. Organization and business outcomes are usually very macro level—such as achieving sales targets or profits, succeeding in a merger or acquisition, etc. That means that these outcomes are often (1) quite a way downstream from day-to-day PR activities, (2) they may be long-term and not be evident for some years in many cases, and (3) they are almost always the result of multiple inputs and outputs (e.g. from marketing, sales, finance, product development, customer service, etc).

There are two steps that I emphasize for PR practitioners to link their work to organization and business outcomes. First, make sure you know what are the priority outcomes sought by the business or the organization. It sounds obvious, but these need to be clear and top of mind. Second, if you do not directly contribute to those outcomes—for example, if a priority business outcome is sales growth and you are not a sales person—then work out how you can indirectly contribute. If you can show, for instance, that positive product publicity and high quality sales presentation materials underpin sales success, then you can show that PR to produce these items connects to the business outcome in a two-step flow. Or it might be a three-step flow sometimes, but there must be a flow.

Register now for the free April 16 webinar with Dr. Jim Macnamara, "Meaningful Metrics – Understanding Engagement, Influence and Reach."