5 PR Measurement Myths Debunked

Everyone knows the big challenges in the measurement of PR efforts as we head into 2019. Top of mind is proving the value of your messaging and illustrating your success stories to the C-suite and other stakeholders. Strategies need to be based on data and every facet of a communications plan needs to be measurable. Meanwhile, emerging technologies including AI and machine learning have added new opportunities and challenges.

But is it enough to have a strategy, deploy technology and use data to drive decision-making? Here, members of the Commission on Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation at the Institute for Public Relations point to the biggest measurement myths they've seen emerge as the world of PR measurement evolves.

For a deeper dive on the future of PR measurement, join members of IPR and PR News content director Melissa Hoffmann for a Twitter chat on Tuesday, Dec. 4, from 12 p.m. - 1 p.m. EST. Use hashtag #PRChat to join the conversation.

Marketers and Communicators Regularly Make Decisions Based on Data

Sure, your data shows that using images increases engagement rates on social media, so you use more images. Certain headline types and words drive higher click-through rates, so you use more of those. But small-scale data analysis is a case of missing the forest for the trees. "If communicators do make decisions based on data, they're typically making decisions based on small chunks of data in narrow situations that are easily understandable," said Tim Marklein, founder of Big Valley Marketing and a commission member. "Beyond that, if we're being honest, there's a lot of data flying around with precious little insight and precious little data-driven decision-making."

The fault, Marklein said, lies with both the producers of data and analytics—who need to improve their skills in analyzing across channels and disciplines and package and present data and insights in more compelling ways—and consumers of analytics, who need to build data into their decision cycles and improve their ability to plan, evaluate and optimize based on analytics.

Most PR Plans Provide Adequate Blueprints for Success

"Simply stated, most don't," said Mark Weiner, CEO of Prime Research and the commission chair. Very few plans, he said, predefine success, either in terms of objectives or results. "We believe that excellent creative, compelling tactical and timely execution elements are important in creating dynamic and credible programming, but the probability for success in the absence of measurable objectives is very low."

How low?

"That depends," Weiner said. If the client's standard for success is sufficiently low and vague, say 'generate publicity,' you may succeed. But the chances for most PR plans to succeed drop as the client's demands grow in scope and specificity."

"It's better to plan in terms of timeframe, target audience, and a specific result," he said.

AI is the Immediate Future of Measurement

With all the talk about AI and machine learning, immediate impacts on measurement sit just on the horizon, right?

Maybe not.

"Despite all the talk, artificial intelligence is not a practical reality for public relations just yet," said Weiner. "Beware of claims to the contrary." He said it is still in its infancy and "requires human category expertise and critical thinking to educate the software and manage it toward continuous improvement regarding content relevancy, data accuracy and actionable insights."

Technology and Tools are the Most Critical Needs for Measurement

Your measurement is only as good as your tools, right? Wrong.

"Unfortunately, most organizations still spend more time and money on technology for analytics that they do on the people and processes behind it," said Marklein. These, he said, are far more critical than the tools themselves. "Now that you've invested in that shiny new tool, who's going to use and manage it? Now that you have that beautiful new dashboard, what decisions will you make? Most importantly, who understands what's 'in' the data, how to interrogate it, how to combine it with other data, and how to answer critical questions?"

Marklein said to start by investing in the right people and building the right processes, so that "you may actually get the return you hope for from your technology/tools investment."

Proving the Value of PR is the Same as Quantifying ROI

"While both 'proving value' and 'driving ROI' are important, they are fundamentally different," Weiner said. "'Value' is a subjective measure while ROI is an objective measure."

To prove value, Weiner said, "the PR executive must have a keen understanding of the objectives of the organization and a solid understanding of what drives the value equation within the organization ... it can take almost any shape as imagined by one's clients and their preferences for PR."

Weiner noted that generating ROI through public relations usually comes in three forms: doing more with less and for less (resource efficiency); driving revenue (the PR-to-sales connection); and avoiding catastrophic cost (crisis circumvention).