PRIME Research’s Mark Weiner Dispels Some PR Measurement Myths

Mark Weiner

Tying PR outcomes to business goals is the Holy Grail for many PR pros and their organizations. According to Mark Weiner, CEO, Americas, for PRIME Research, and a PR News Advisory Board member, proving the value of PR begins with research and evaluation. Weiner will share some of his measurement tactics at PR News’ PR Measurement Conference on April 18 in Washington, D.C. In the following Q&A, he offers a preview of his presentation on defining measurement objectives, determining social and traditional metrics and building a concrete measurement program.

PR News: You write a regular column in PR News in which you bust PR myths. What is the most prevalent PR research and evaluation myth today?

Mark Weiner:
PR measurement myths arise out of the basic human need to understand and impose order on a messy reality. Unfortunately, new methods, technologies and approaches to PR and research have shown that much of PR’s conventional wisdom is simply wrong. Given that so much of public relations depends on expert storytelling, it should come as no surprise that [this knack for storytelling] has led to some myths about measurement. Among those myths: “research must be expensive and sophisticated,” “a research and measurement system must work in realtime" and, surprisingly, that “PR can’t be measured.”

The most prevalent difficulty in PR research and evaluation is the dual need to prove the value of PR and to improve PR performance over time. Casting myths aside, research and evaluation hold the key to unlocking both requirements.

PR News: What forms of research can help sell PR to the C-suite?

Weiner: The difficulty of “value” is that it is a subjective term, which changes not only from organization to organization but also from person to person within the same organization. The key to selling PR to the C-suite is to uncover and align the often secret value system in place within your organization.

At PRIME, we advocate an executive audit—a research-based approach designed to help executives align their preferences and priorities as they relate to PR. In this way, PR professionals can more efficiently set objectives and communicate PR performance results in the language of their internal clients. More importantly, the audit sets the stage for objectives-setting and performance evaluation in ways that are reasonable, meaningful and measurable. In this way, professionals replace “selling” with “dialogue”—a form of communication with which our profession finds greater comfort.

PR News: Why are communicators having trouble proving social media ROI, and how can they get a handle on that?

Weiner: Unlike “value,” which, as noted earlier is a purely subjective measure, ROI is an objective, quantifiable measure. In any business case, ROI is derived either from revenue generation or resource retention, regardless of whether “revenue” is derived from sales, membership, tuition and the like. In our experience delivering ROI models for clients, we’ve discovered three forms of PR-based ROI: driving revenue by making the PR-to-sales connection, increasing efficiency by doing more for less and with less and avoiding catastrophic cost through expert counsel. In this way, social media and traditional media are identical.

The simplest way to generate a positive ROI is to do more with less: “Generate 50% more positive social media traffic with a budget increase of only 3%” would be an example. The downside is that savings are limited to a fraction of the PR budget. Driving revenue is the sexiest form of ROI, and advanced statistical modeling can isolate the effects of social media, mass-market advertising, price promotions and more. But, interestingly, avoiding catastrophic cost is the most meaningful as snowballing social media negativity can bring the downfall of a brand or even a company, in which cast the “cost-avoided” can amount to billions of dollars.

PR News: You've been involved with the Institute for Public Relations for some time. It recently announced a coalition to establish research standards. What do you expect will come out of that group this year?

Weiner: The coalition seeks to create research standards to help advance the profession beyond the indeterminate, impotent and sometimes destructive approaches which pass for measurement, research and evaluation. Given the gap between common practice and best practice, I expect the standards to reflect simple first-step suggestions to PR’s most common research and evaluation questions. In this way, the standards will set the stage for easy understanding, rapid implementation and wide execution.

PR News: What is one tip you'll be sharing at the April 18 PR News Measurement Conference?

Weiner: I will expand on the following advice: Align public relations programming with business goals; set PR objectives that are reasonable, meaningful and measurable; and begin with research to eliminate risk and optimize potential.

Attend PR News’ PR Measurement Conference on April 18 in Washington, D.C., and learn more from measurement leaders like Mark Weiner.

Follow Regina D’Alesio: @reginadalesio