A Case for Research: ‘Begin Simply and Simply Begin’

One of the biggest and most pervasive PR myths is that good measurement must be expensive and complicated. Years ago, speaking at a PRNEWS Measurement Conference, I shared stories from a variety of Fortune 500 clients. This seemed like the best way to illustrate the importance of communication research. After all, if the biggest PR departments invested in research, everyone should.

Then, a member of the audience commented, ‘I know what you’re saying is right. But I don’t have a Fortune 500 budget. So, rather than doing it wrong, I choose not to measure’

I realized that in promoting my position, I perpetuated the myth I was committed to dispelling.

In fact, research is more accessible now to more professional communicators. The Institute for Public Relations and AMEC offer all the guidance you need, including case studies, methodologies and instructional frameworks. What’s more, communication technology platforms are ubiquitous and at many price points…some cost nothing! With free and low-cost technology, the decision to measure, even with a modest budget, is a matter of willingness rather than ability.

Simple Measures

Despite having little or no budget and management not demanding data, consider the positive effects of even simple measurement. The measurati speak of four types:

Inputs: These track expenditure in terms of time and money. Monitoring investment can show how wisely you spent budget and your actions’ efficiency. When combined with outputs, outcome and business measures, the efficiency equation will show your ‘Cost per X,’ where X may mean cost-per-thousand circulation or cost-per-positive story or cost-per-percentage point of increased awareness. It’s a good, easy way to begin.

Outputs: These measure what you put out: news coverage and social media activity. Use Google for free, or one of the lower cost commercial platforms, to monitor the volume and reach of your media coverage. In addition to simple quantitative tabulations, look at qualitative measures, like tone of coverage and the presence of key messages. Note that technology alone has trouble accurately assessing quality. So, be prepared to review the computer’s calculations. Last, technology enables competitive analysis to track share-of-voice as well as other comparative measures.

Outcomes: Here, you’re measuring the effects of communication on the awareness, understanding, preferences and attitudes of the target audience(s). These answers reside in people’s minds. There are two ways to measure inexpensively: survey technology and social media. Low-cost survey technology allows you to ask respondents questions that reveal how much their positions changed as a result of your work. Gauge awareness, attitudes and behavior in social posts, where people share their opinions about, and experiences with, your product and services. Social media listening is like a giant, un-moderated focus group. You can learn a lot simply listening.

Business Results: The purpose of connecting PR activity with business results is to demonstrate communication’s ability to influence sales, cost efficiency and risk mitigation. While certain methods are complicated and expensive, making the ‘PR-to-Sales Connection’ can happen when PR operates in isolation (so there’s no other way to explain the result). Moreover, you can study social media results to uncover references to purchase behavior (‘I just bought the new, improved detergent and it really works!’). While linking PR with sales is sexy, the most accessible approach to PR’s effect on business outcomes is efficiency. This requires linking PR inputs with outcomes to show that you’re doing more with less and for less. By lowering the cost on each positive story (budget divided by positive stories), you’re improving the organization’s PR investment. Finally, avoiding catastrophic cost is a measure of your good counsel. Compare your crisis averted with how much it cost a competitor that mishandled a crisis. Measure the competitor’s stock performance, market share or other data, much of which is available through trade associations and media.

Low-Cost Best Practice

A great example of PR research–regardless of budget–was entered in the PRSA Silver Anvil Awards. A small town wanted to quantify inputs, outputs and behavioral results…and the campaign cost nothing! To reduce the number of stolen cars, the town reminded citizens to remove their keys from the ignition while running errands. The town tabulated its car thefts and those of neighboring communities. Once the behavioral benchmark was set, the town began a local media campaign. Within months, car thefts were eliminated.

I’ve adopted a measurement motto: “Begin simply. Simply begin.” Committing to measurement, even in simple ways, conveys PR’s performance in the language of the boardroom.

Data transcends language barriers to demonstrate the effect of good work. What’s more, fundamental measures create an appetite among senior executives: more PR programs, more good results and more measurement. You, in turn, position yourself for more: bigger budgets and greater acclaim.

Mark Weiner’s latest book, “Public Relations Technology, Data and Insights,” will be released this month.

Contact: [email protected]