PR Measurement: Rely Less on Hunches, More on Hard Data

Don Bartholomew, Ketchum

In order to develop a solid PR measurement program, strive for decisions based more on data and facts, and less on opinion and experience, says Don Bartholomew, senior VP of digital and social media research at Ketchum. "Opinion and experience are still important, and we want to be data-informed rather than data driven, but the orientation clearly needs to shift more strongly toward data and facts," Bartholomew says.

The 20-year communications veteran, currently vice chair of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication's (AMEC) Social Media Group, will be a speaker at PR News' PR Measurement Conference on May 15 in Washington D.C.  We recently spoke with Bartholomew about data versus  "hunches," the Barcelona Principles and measurement misnomers.  

PR News: There's a new IBM study that says the majority of marketers are relying on hunches to make informed decisions, and less on science-based information. Do you feel this is the case with PR professionals, as well?
Don Bartholomew: I’m not sure 'hunches' is the right word, but I do believe PR pros generally rely on past experience and informed guesses to make many strategic programming decisions. In meetings with clients, many sentences begin with, "In my experience…" What we prefer to hear is a conversation that starts with questions like, "What do we know from the data?" and "How confident are we in the data?" rather than starting with, "What does everyone think?"

Build the strategic foundation with data and then layer on opinion and experience. If you start with opinion and experience there is a tendency to view the data as a way to confirm prejudices rather than to guide strategy. Opinion and experience are still important so you want to be data-informed rather than data-driven, but the orientation clearly needs to shift more strongly toward data and facts, and away from opinion and experience only.
PR News: Since the Barcelona Principles were crafted, what PR measurement progress have you seen with clients?
Bartholomew: With many clients there has been an enhanced recognition of the importance of sound measurement practices in general. Specifically there has also been recognition that, as an industry, we must move away from invalid metrics like AVE (advertising value equivalent)  and find better ways to describe the business impact of what we deliver.
PR News: What are the most prevelant  misconceptions about measurement among your clients?
Bartholomew: One misnomer or misperception is that all measurement is expensive. While some statistical modeling efforts might be a little outside the budget for many companies, it is absolutely possible to have a sound measurement program that does not cost a lot of money. A second misnomer is in the use of the term 'return on investment' (ROI). Many people seem to use the term to loosely mean 'result' or 'impact.' ROI is a financial metric with a well-known definition. Using ROI to refer to anything else detracts from our credibility as an industry.

PR News: What's one tip you'll impart with to people attending PR News' measurement conference?
Bartholomew: Learn how to describe public relations and social media results in terms of business impact, and not just media results.  

Hear Don Bartholomew and measurement experts from brands, such as Thomson Reuters, GM and Allstate Insurance, at PR News' PR Measurement Conference, May 15 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01