PR Measurement in 2011: Show the Science, But Trust Your Instincts

Of all the disciplines in PR, none is so confounding, contentious or critical than measurement. From the biggest corporations to the smallest organizations, the ability to measure PR’s value within overall goals is not a bonus, but a necessity.

But, unfortunately for many PR pros, measurement is still shrouded in mystery. “For many communicators I’ve spoken to, it’s a challenge,” says Pauline Draper-Watts, measurement consultant and, from 2009-2010, the chairperson for the Institute for Public Relations’ Commission on Measurement and Evaluation. “They can’t quite get their arms around measurement, and they don’t want to take a cookie-cutter approach.”

Yet 2010 was a banner year for the establishment of formal PR measurement standards, and Draper-Watts’ IPR group led the charge.


In September 2010, the commission shaped the recommended measurement standards as part of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) initiative to promote the business case for public relations.

And back in June, the IPR Commission, along with other global communications organization, pushed through the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles at the European Summit on Measurement. These principles (see the sidebar for details), the subject of much debate among PR pros, hopefully signify the start of the “arm-wrapping process,” says Draper-Watts. “We didn’t set the bar too high, and I hoped that people were already following similar recommendations, but sadly that’s not the case,” she says. The Barcelona Principles, continues Draper-Watts, give PR pros something to follow in formulating a measurement strategy.

To see how far organizations have come with measurement, and where they are headed this year, PR News talked to communicators within both corporate and nonprofit spaces. The overriding themes: 1) Know what you need to measure, and 2) Trust your gut feelings.


For Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications at General Motors, the biggest measurement challenges are threefold:

• Aligning measurement goals with the business goals—what are you going to measure.

• Picking the best tools to use.

• Determining the most effective ways to report outcomes that make a difference.

In addressing those three challenges, Henige likes to say that social media measurement isn’t magic. “What we’re supposed to do is support the business objectives,” she says. For the last two years, GM has been in crisis mode, which necessitated awareness and relationship building on the part of her team. “Our job is transferring those kinds of efforts into sales of Chevy vehicles,” she says. “If we’re not selling, we’re not making money.”

Figuring out the best tools to measure with has been a sticking point. “We’re using six different tools now, and we hope to cut that number down,” says Henige. GM is working with communications firm Big Fuel to optimize marcom programs, and measurement is a top priority. It’s social media’s close relationship with marketing that enables good measurement, says Henige. “We do a lot of cross-functional programs and a lot of resource sharing,” she says.

But sometimes, says Henige, “you’re just going to take a leap and concentrate on reputation or awareness. You don’t have to make everything so analytical.”


In the case of Ed Davis, director of media relations at United Way Greater Houston, it’s not a case of resource sharing, but a case of resources, period. “Measurement is tough for nonprofits,” says Davis. “I wish we had a little more budget for it.”

Still, Davis is moving from the clip counts and media impressions that he encountered when he first joined UW two years ago, to tying earned media articles with people who give donations. “While it’s important to show donations are up, what is more important to me is engagement,” says Davis.

In the nonprofit world, says Davis, a certain amount of measurement creativity is needed, because board members and volunteers expect relevant metrics—tight budgets notwithstanding. “So we’re creating our own analytics,” he says. Davis has developed “return on engagement,” a metric that can be benchmarked and that ties engagement with sign-ups, blog posts and the like. Another key measurement is brand awareness—key because the competition for donations is fierce.

Davis has a few measurement tips that will serve PR pros—nonprofit or not—well.

Pick the right tools. “Use the ones that give you numbers you can work with,” he says, citing Google Analytics as one United Way stalwart.

Be somewhat scientific. “That’s what boards want to see, and it’s a good practice to get into,” says Davis.

Yet, listen to your gut. “Most PR folks inherently know when something is working,” Davis says.


Tim Keefe, VP of internal communications at JPMorgan Chase, hopes to get more scientific year. In the past, says Keefe, the internal comms team has focused on having employees rate how the company is doing. “Now we’ll pay more attention to employee behaviors—when and how they communicate,” says Keefe.

Keefe is also working with Chase’s customer service team in establishing a link between internal communications and employee performance.

One thing is certain, says Keefe, and that is it’s a time of change for the financial services industry—particularly in the credit card space. “Employees must understand what we’re doing, trust our leaders and trust the company’s vision. Those are the signs we’re looking for,” says Keefe.

If any industry skews toward metrics, it’s financial services. “We measure everything, and our leadership demands it. So we have to demonstrate effectiveness,” he says.

True, demonstrating communications’ effectiveness is the bottom line—but it’s the journey to that end that is difficult. PRN

[Editor’s Note: Catch Henige, Davis and Keefe at the PR News Measurement Conference on March 1 in Washington D.C.]

Measurement Tenets to Live By: The Barcelona Principles

Formulated last year at the European Summit on Measurement, the Barcelona Principles are a guide to help formulate specific measurement strategies, says Pauline Draper-Watts, former IPR Measurement Commission chairperson. “Organizations will look at measurement differently, but these basic principles can serve as a framework for everyone,” says Draper. The Principles are:

1. Importance of Goal Setting and Measurement

2. Measuring the Effect on Outcomes Is Preferred to Measuring Outputs

3. The Effect on Business Results Can and Should Be Measured Where Possible

4. Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality

5. AVEs Are Not the Value of Public Relations

6. Social Media Can and Should Be Measured

7. Transparency and Replicability Are Paramount to Sound Measurement

For more information on the principles, go to


Pauline Draper-Watts,; Mary Henige,; Ed Davis,; Tim Keefe,