Real or Fake? How to Make Sure Your Brand Really Wants PR Measurement

Ketchum Global Research  & Analytics, Partner/CEO, David Rockland
David Rockland, Partner/CEO, Ketchum Global Research  & Analytics

Recently I got a phone call from Marion McDonald, chief strategy officer of Ogilvy PR Asia Pacific. She was preparing her presentation for the AMEC Summit in Bangkok, May 17-18 ( Now, Marion’s a great presenter, and I always will try to see one of her talks. In fact, at the AMEC Summit in Amsterdam a few years ago, she used the famous scene from the movie When Harry Met Sally as part of a discussion on how advertisers and PR people might work together.

The question in the recent phone call might be described as following on from the movie in this way: “Was Meg Ryan’s fake rapture in the diner similar to how some PR practitioners say they really want measurement, but in reality are just faking it?” They worry the results could show that maybe they are not as effective as they would like to think.

I’ll Measure What She’s Measuring

I think the answer to Marion’s query really depends on the organization involved. We certainly have many brand clients who fully take on measurement as part of their ongoing PR initiatives and wouldn’t do a communications program without it. They range from big global companies such as Philips, to nonprofits like UNICEF, to hospital systems such as Cleveland Clinic. Those communications pros know that PR is just like any other organizational function; understanding how it is performing, often in concert with other functions, is critical to how you run an organization.

There are certainly others, however, where their PR plans lack real measures of accountability. No matter how much you try to move them in the direction of better business management, it ain’t happening. The exception is when a brand suddenly gets a new boss who is more business-like and suddenly staff is desperate to show a return on investment.

Presenting Measurement Better

All this brings me to three pet peeves about the measurement part of the PR community. Here’s how we, whose livelihoods are based around companies spending money on metrics, could be doing a more thoughtful job:

First, we often couch measurement as relevant only to seeing how you have done. The reality is that good measurement is not only about doing better going forward, but also about using existing data to show what kind of results you can expect in the future. Speaking about measurement only in terms of “proof” versus “predict,” we seriously under-value its relevance. Who is not going to say that continuous improvement is not important? On the other hand, many can dismiss looking over your shoulder or CYA as unnecessary.

Second, many measurement pros are selling their wares as “let me help you show how successful you are.” Or, it is commonplace that a PR account team asks its measurement group to help it demonstrate the success of its initiatives. Here’s the bad news: PR is not always successful; PR is not always better or more credible than advertising; and sometimes a PR program would be best to have never happened in the first place. PR has to be prepared to stop PR’ing its own work and instead treat itself as a business function that is focused on always delivering the strongest results it can and seeking improvement in those results, while recognizing that sometimes things go sideways. Things can go sideways in all other facets of marketing and branding, too.

Finally, there is no reason to ask whether PR can be measured. In fact, the Barcelona Principles in 2010 pretty much laid out the path and its update in 2015 helped make it more relevant to today’s multi-channel world. It really boils down to three questions:

1. Did you reach the right people with the right message?

2. Based on having reached them, did they change in some way such as awareness, perception, behavior, recommendation, etc.?

3. How did those changes benefit your organization?

Low-Cost Measurement

Does this have to cost a fortune? No. If you are collecting your coverage, an analysis of a sample of those clips in terms of readership and message content can take care of question 1. If you conduct a brand tracking survey, you can easily make minor adjustments to cover question 2 and sometimes question 3. And, if you keep track of the answers to question 1 over time, along with other things that could have affected organizational benefits and overall organizational performance, such as sales, donations, stock price, etc., a statistician can make some pretty simple analysis so you can answer question 3.

More Chickens or Brave Pros?

So, to answer Marion’s question, yes, I encounter chickens in PR. But I have to admit I encounter more communications professionals every day who are using measurement to build their organization now and in the future. Many of them will attend the PR News’ Measurement Conference in Washington, April 21. Some will attend the AMEC Summit in Bangkok the following month.

In fact, I kind of have a “measurement man-crush” on one of these professionals. His name is Alex Aiken and he runs the Government Communications Service (GCS) as part of the U.K. Cabinet. He has pushed measurement based on the three questions above into most every department and facet of the Britain’s government.

I have the pleasure of serving on an Advisory Board to the GCS that reviews measurement programs across the U.K. government. To give you a sense of fortitude, our last meeting was March 23, the day after the horrific incident on Westminster Bridge. The meeting was very nearby to where the tragedy occurred. As I walked from my hotel to the location, I passed by a tremendous number of police, press cameras and lights, and cordoned-off areas.

That the meeting went on made me think that the PR profession is moving away from chickens running around with their heads cut off, to a much more professional business with real pros with real guts running the show. Measurement is part of that change.


Note 1: This content appeared originally in PR News Pro, April, 17, 2017. For subscription information, please visit:

Note 2: A past AMEC chair and Emeritus Member, IPR Measurement Commission, Dr. Rockland will co-host the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame induction ceremonies during its Measurement Conference & Social Media Boot Camp, April 20-21, National Press Club, Washington, D.C. For more: