For Best PR Results, Follow the 3 O’s of Metrics: Outputs, Outtakes & Outcomes

With several major international public relations having adopted the Barcelona Principles of Measurement, there’s renewed interest in the topic of measurement and metrics in communications programs. That should come as welcome news to agencies and in-house departments, as it’s time for all of us to commit to more effectively counseling our clients on measurement. Like any good counselor, this means challenging assumptions, providing options and making recommendations.


When a client asks for program metrics, the first reaction is usually either fight or flight. The “fight” happens when the communications professional launches into a litany of reasons why the program can’t be measured. The “flight” is when we run back to our offices to try to come up with some type of graph or pie chart that shows we’ve moved the needle.


Rather than fight or flight, it’s up to us as professionals to engage in a constructive conversation about what can—and should—be measured within a program. And don’t forget to ask why. Using measurement strictly to gauge whether someone is doing their job is shortsighted. Instead, measurement should be a continuous effort used to adjust or alter a program to improve its effectiveness. It’s not a performance review—it’s a diagnostic.


The big question we all get is, “what’s the ROI?” Rather than jump to the answer, we should challenge the question. Next to the phrase “we offer solutions,” ROI is one of the most overused and oversimplified concepts in business.

Most people tend to equate the word “return” with “dollars earned.” What we really want to know is the value of the investment—not just the return. Let’s use your car as an example. We all want value from our car purchases, but rarely do we talk about the ROI on our automobiles.


Value has three dimensions. Certainly there’s monetary value—how many dollars did I invest, and how many dollars did I earn? But how many of you drive down the road and calculate the money you paid for your car, gas and insurance, the depreciation and the dollars per mile and compare that to what you made at the office that day? Yes, we want our money’s worth, but rarely is it calculated in what’s traditionally been referred to as ROI.

In addition to monetary value, we also have to look at utility. Does this method work better than other methods? Let’s compare the utility of your car to that of a bicycle or walking. Yes, the bicycle and walking might be cheaper and give you more exercise, but if you live 20 miles from work those methods aren’t as useful as a car.

And then there’s a third dimension—brand building. Your choice of automobile says something about you—it makes a statement. That’s why there are Ford people and Chevy people. Toyota people and Honda people. When you get right down to it, many cars aren’t much different from one another in cost and functionality, but we buy one or the other because it says something about us. Likewise, we can’t calculate the ROI or utility on a corporate sustainability report, yet companies are producing them in droves because doing so says something about their brand.


When embarking on more effective measurement, you need to avoid the wild animals in the zoo.

There’s the HIPPO method. That’s measurement based on the Highest Paid Person’s Objectives. Unless we’re talking about the CEO, rarely are one person’s objectives aligned with the objectives of a truly strategic communication program.

There’s the Monkey See, Monkey Count method. That’s when we run off and measure everything that can be measured because there are really cool tools out there to do it. We end up with variation upon variation of dashboards and reports that look great, but nobody reads them.

There’s the Penguin method. That’s where every tactic in a program is measured the same way. Our industry used to do this a lot when we calculated the “Advertising Value Equivalency” of a published story and tried to convince senior leadership that the one-line mention in the story was as valuable as taking out a full-page ad. Those still using AVEs will be hard-pressed to get strategic about programs, because AVEs don’t take into account the fundamental value of different PR channels.

And finally, there’s the T. rex method (let’s assume it’s a prehistoric zoo). That’s when the measurement becomes so all-consuming that it devours your entire budget. Measurement itself requires investment, so make sure to keep your perspective.


To take a healthier approach to measurement, start with the premise that measurement in and of itself is a good thing both for the agency and the client. Then make a joint commitment on why we’re measuring, what we should be measuring and how much time and effort we’re going to spend on it. Then use the “Three O’s” to frame up the conversation.

Outputs: This is the most basic form of measurement, and everything we do can be evaluated at this level. In essence, it’s what we produced and how we did in producing it. Was it on time? On budget? On message? Adhering to corporate standards? Yes, this is pretty basic, but for some programs, measuring outputs can point out inefficiencies that need to be addressed.

Outtakes: One level up in sophistication, outtakes focus on who was reached vs. what was produced. What’s the circulation on that article? How many people viewed that Web page? Who downloaded the video? What was the attendance at our event? We’re getting more and more sophisticated at measuring at the outtakes level, but we need to realize that reaching someone is rarely the end goal. If that were the case, we could simply stop at awareness. And we all know nobody made a decision solely on being aware.

Outcomes: Clearly, the most sophisticated form of measurement. Look at what behaviors changed as a result of our efforts. Who voted? Who purchased? Who stopped protesting? Who called their legislator? Did customer loyalty for the brand improve after the program? Did we generate more qualified leads year-over-year? Outcomes-based measurement is the Holy Grail in PR, and it’s within reach.

There’s never been a better time to commit to program measurement. The industry is adopting reasonable and consistent standards, and the tools are there for us to do it effectively. It’s time for us to truly be counselors to our clients and help them measure what’s important. PRN

[This article was adapted from PR News’ PR Measurement Guidebook, Vol. 6 . To order go]


This article was written by Matt Kucharski, ([email protected]), executive vice president of agency services at Padilla Speer Beardsley, and Heidi Wight ([email protected]), director at Padilla Speer Beardsley.