Measurement KPIs, AI Tools and Reputation Evaluation Strategies for Corporate Communicators

An Institute for Public Relations webinar on Wednesday, March 6, featuring communications and business executives from Merck, healthcare agency Real Chemistry and reputation intelligence platform MAHA Global, explored how corporate brand and reputation drives business outcomes. The conversation covered the challenges of measuring that reputation, tools, key KPIs and emerging issues in reputation management.

“The information we're consuming is clouded more and more by disinformation, and in a macroeconomic environment that's super volatile," said Jim Weiss, founder and chairman for Real Chemistry. "Every day we're waking up to a new war, conflict, issue, a change."

And that directly affects a company's reputation. “The relevance of companies and brands can change pretty much immediately, and damage much more easily,” Weiss said. “All of this presents new challenges and opportunities for the chief communications officers, marketing officers, CFOs, and investor relations professionals that drive corporate reputation, but more important, evaluation… It's now possible for reputation teams to quantify financial risks and prioritize future reputational opportunities.”

Analyzing Data Sources to Build Trust

What a company does is increasingly more important than what it says, according to Haider Nazar, co-founder and CEO at MAHA Global. As a result, the companies that are taking specific action are building a foundation of trust from their stakeholders. “It's becoming increasingly important for companies to really understand and prioritize what to speak out on, as the factors that are the most differentiating for them… and have a track record executing on.” Those are the companies that are able to build a solid foundation of trust, he said.

Building New Metrics for Emerging Issues

So how do companies measure reputation in light of these volatile ever-shifting environments? In Nazar's experience, reputation teams are working on defining new metrics to understand emerging factors an organization, brand or product team needs to focus on. That requires moving beyond metrics extracted from survey or polling data, he said.

“With so much other data out there, it's really about rethinking the way you measure and how can you get out ahead. Because if your polling information is telling you what people have been saying over the last three months, that might not be indicative of what the perception is of your brand three months out.” And that’s where next-gen technologies, AI and machine learning tools become increasingly important to reputation leaders.

The most obvious emerging trend in measuring corporate branding and reputation management is, of course, the application of AI. Nazar divides the methods of data gathering by AI tools into two camps: the aggregation of data through large language models (LLMs), and analyzing the data collectively to create automation and insights that the reputation team can use to respond quicker to changing reputation factors in the market.

“It’s important to be aware and conscious of both the aggregation side as well as measuring the impact of your decision-making and feeding those models," said Nazar, "so that you're able to have higher and higher levels of confidence in what it's producing for you."

Going Beyond Polling and Surveys

There is pressure to measure reputation in real time and develop metrics that increase predictability, panelists agreed. In addition to media monitoring capabilities that can track keywords and what’s trending across multiple languages and geographies, companies can leverage custom research tools and subscription services that go beyond polling and surveys to evaluate public perception, as well as new performance data tools.

Producing actionable metrics, however, involves creating a more unified view of your data, Nazar said. “There are so many different data sources. How do you unify and then extract meaningful, actionable guidance out of that?” he said. “There are an emergent set of companies (we're one of them) that is applying this application layer, the system of intelligence, to reputation... to diagnose and predict, unifying all that data.”

Tracking Progress With Industry-Specific KPIs

For Cristal Downing, EVP and Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer at Merck, measuring reputation means doubling down on tracking a company’s own progress. “There are so many different metrics. There's so many different inputs and insights,” she said.

“What became obvious for my team that actually focuses on reputation here, is we started not necessarily overly indexing on what our peer set was doing," she said. "In the world of pharmaceuticals, we've got a lot of different companies that we could look to the left and the right [of] and see what they're doing, how they're doing. Instead, we decided to land on… six or seven KPIs and just watch our trajectory," she said. "Are we going up or down? And if so, what are the drivers?"

Business Metrics for Corporate Boards

When asked to define key metrics that corporate boards and executives are tracking, Downing said she is very deliberate with the information, results and data points she shares with them. “Obviously, in any way that we can tie our efforts in terms of protecting, defending, elevating our brand equity and our reputation to business performance and business outcomes, that's most important,” she said. “Not only for me, but for them.”

Other business metrics she uses include share price, the company's financial statement and industry recognition and lists—but also more qualitative information, like recruitment, retention and internal employee surveys. “All of these different pieces formulate our company scorecard," she said, "so I never want to stray too far from being able to connect right back to that."