How PR Measurement Can Put a Smile on Your Face

If economics is the dismal science, then measurement surely must make a compelling argument for being PR’s grim discipline.

Similar to regular exercise and eating a balanced diet, measurement is something communicators know they should do, but often find ways to avoid it. While a surfeit of tools has made it easier than ever to measure PR and marketing efforts, a Nasdaq-PR News survey shows better than half of PR professionals devote little or no time to measurement. Nearly 20% ignore measurement totally, the survey says. This isn’t surprising. At the start of PR News' annual Measurement Conference, PR News’ editorial director Steve Goldstein asks the crowd to indicate if they’ve heard of the Barcelona Principles or the Barcelona Principles 2.0; only a few say they have.

Is the relegation of measurement a time issue? Perhaps it’s a resource question. While many tools are free, others can stretch communications budgets beyond the max. Getting a tool custom-made to meet your needs can be beyond the price range of some.

And there’s the question of what to measure. Nearly 60% of respondents to the above-mentioned Nasdaq-PR News survey assessed their ability to select the proper data to analyze and apply it to improve PR strategies as “fair” or “poor.”

Certainly there is a lot to measure, but brands can get in trouble because they measure too many things. It’s the “biggest mistake” communicators make, Jessica Onick, corporate PR program manager at B2B software firm Citrix, tells my colleague Jerry Ascierto. PR people, she says, have a “tendency to want to measure the universe.” She recounts times at Edelman, where she was employed previously, ironically working on the Citrix account. The reports [we produced] “were huge and thick with these massive spreadsheets—and we didn’t really use any of it, it went out into the ether. I doubt anyone looked at them.”

Fortunately, many of these pitfalls are avoidable and will be covered during the PR News’ Measurement Conference & Social Media Boot Camp April 20-21 in Washington, D.C., where the mood, in contrast to the characterization of economics, will be decidedly happy. In fact, you’re guaranteed to leave the event with measurement wisdom that may lead to joyous outbreaks at your office. [And while we’re at it, the link between the words dismal and economics seems to be inaccurate.]

Another source of joy at the Measurement Conference will be the induction of the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame class of 2017: John Gilfeather, EVP, Koski Research; Elizabeth Rector, senior manager of customer experience & insights, Cisco Systems; Mike Daniels, principal, Measurement Practice; and Richard Bagnall, CEO, PRIME Research UK, and chairman of AMEC.

That the induction ceremony will occur at National Press Club has personal significance for a member of the Hall of Fame class of 2013, our good friend Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research in the Americas. He’s also chairman of the Institute for Public Relations’ (IPR) Commission on Measurement, which means he, along with fellow Hall and IPR members David Rockland, partner/CEO, Ketchum Global Research & Analytics and a leader in the formulation of The Barcelona Principles; Jackie Matthews, a veteran researcher at General Motors; and Don Stacks, professor, University of Miami are asked to vet potential Hall of Fame candidates.

But back to the National Press Club and its significance for Weiner: You could say he owes his start to the Club. “As an English major at the University of Maryland in the late ’70s,” Weiner tells us, “I worked the gamut of local restaurant jobs, including one at the Runyon-esque clubhouse at the Laurel horse track, one at a notorious singles bar called Rumors and, not in the least, at the prestigious National Press Club.”

Skip forward to Weiner’s graduation from Maryland and he’s interviewing with the NY Times Syndicate, a position “for which I wasn’t sure I was qualified.” After two interviews his future employer seemed non-committal. In his final interview with the president of the News Service, the interviewer offered one comment only: “You worked at the National Press Club. You must have ink in your veins. You’re hired.”

Ever the philosopher, Weiner quotes Søren Kierkegaard on the challenge of life and career: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” As Weiner says, “We can’t predict our future with certainty, but we trust that the path will reveal itself in time.” For Weiner, the road to the Measurement Hall of Fame began at the National Press Club in 1977 and it’s been far from dismal.

Follow Seth: @skarenstein