Communicators Miss Boat by Failing to Measure the Competition

Good news for PR executives on the measurement front: The PR/communications profession as a whole seems to have come a long way in understanding the value of measuring and analyzing the effectiveness of their media relations efforts—this according to the results of the PR News/Cision Media Measurement survey [for full results, see “Charting the Industry,”].

More than 550 public relations and communications professionals responded to the survey, which revealed that the majority—55%—spent more time measuring media relations results in the past year than they had in years prior.

“The fact that only 6% spent less time measuring over the past year is significant, especially because it was at a point where there were lots of other things to distract people—a lot of outreach to be done with fewer people to do it—yet they still took more time to measure than they had in the previous year,” says K.C. Brown, vice president at Cision North America. “This says that most people understand that PR has to be measured and reported. In [downturns] of years past, measurement was ignored, but that doesn’t cut it anymore.”

It certainly doesn’t, and the results also shed light on the various aspects of media measurement that are increasingly viewed as important, both by communications executives and C-level management.

Specifically, when asked how C-level management teams required them to measure and report on their PR/media relations activities, the highest percentage of respondents—24%—cited delivering key messages, followed by raising awareness (21%) and “actual results vs. agreed-upon quantifiable objectives” (17%).

“Demonstrating that they are targeting the right audience through the right media and with the right message is a really sound, fundamental way to go about measurement,” Brown says. “The fact that people aren’t focused on just generating a certain number of stories is a good thing—it’s about targeted messages to a targeted audience.”

In terms of getting those targeted messages in front of a targeted audience and, in turn, having the most effective means of measuring subsequent outcomes, communications executives should consider the following best practices.

â–¶ Come up with your plan and set measurable objectives first and foremost. Brown notes that while it was the third-most important way of measuring and reporting PR activities and results, “actual results vs. agreed-upon quantifiable objectives” should have appeared higher on the list.

“That should be No. 1 in terms of how the C-level requires PR to be measured,” he says. “If I want to be more highly regarded within my organization, then I need to have objectives that can be measured set ahead of time.”

â–¶ Don’t believe the misnomer that tying PR to sales is easier said than done. Only 10% of the survey respondents said that their C-level management team required them to measure and report on PR/communications activities in the context of the role they play in boosting sales—a key driver of bottom-line results and, in turn, overal organizational success.

“That’s setting the expectation of the PR profession really low, because there are real ways to link PR to sales: running side-by-side tests of message effectiveness, modeling and running before-and-after tests of how you are moving the needle, either on sales or things that are known to lead to sales—traffic to your site, for example,” Brown says. “Being able to inject yourself into the sales process is where CEOs should have their sights set, and unfortunately PR people always want to do a switcharoo and get out of that responsibility. But, quite frankly, if you aren’t contributing to sales, then you don’t belong in a moneymaking enterprise.”

â–¶ Don’t look at social and traditional media measurement as “either or.” Today’s world of consumer-driven communications gives new meaning to public relations. In the context of media measurement, it’s critical that communications executives consider the big picture instead of thinking in silos.

“Social media doesn’t replace traditional media,” says Tim Marklein, executive vice president of measurement and strategy at Weber Shandwick. “They work together.”

That means that, in addition to traditional measures like the ones sited in the PR News /Cision survey—prominence, tone, number of impressions, strategic message pickup, awareness, etc.—communications professionals also need to measure and report results with an integrated mind-set (see “Embracing New Communications Measures in Today’s Dynamic Media Environment” sidebar for more information).

“Insight doesn’t live in silos,” Marklein says. “Aggregation is key.”

â–¶ Don’t miss the boat by failing to track competitors to see how your efforts stack up. “One best practice that seems to be discounted according to the survey results is the tracking of competitors. Most communications executives are really missing the boat by not looking at competitors, peers and the broader media environment, because all media coverage is in a context,” Brown says. “The further removed you are from that context, the harder it is to understand what—and how—you’re doing. To the people you are trying to reach, it might seem like you’re doing nothing, or even moving backwards, because the tide is moving at such a fast rate by comparison.” PRN


K.C. Brown,; Tim Marklein,