At the start of my career, I assumed the primary motivation for PR research was to inform continuous improvement. It seemed natural that PR pros focused on what worked, what didn’t and what should be done about it.
As I met prospective clients, I began with research applications for objectives-setting, strategy development and evaluation. But there was always a pivot after about 10 minutes: ‘That’s all great,’ they’d say, ‘but how can you help me prove the value of PR?’
Interest in PR measurement, research and evaluation have never been greater, for two main reasons: low-cost SaaS platforms put media analysis within reach of even the smallest organizations; and C-suites demand PR be measured, just like every other part of the enterprise.
The underlying motivation, however, is different: PR spins data. Even though most communicators would declare spin is their least favorite ‘S word,’ there’s a lot of it happening.
In an attempt to ‘prove the value of PR,’ reports focus on selective data and elements that foster good feelings. Many reports–even in awards competitions that proclaim to reflect the best-of-the-best–emphasize success rather than learning. Clip books and sizzle reels, ad value equivalency and ‘big-number’ PR occupy an inordinate amount of reporting.
As PR research pundit Allyson Hugley says, “Data hurts.” Or at least it has the potential to cause injury.
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