November is Measurement Month. I swear it is.
Johna Burke, the intelligent and ebullient global managing director of AMEC, just wished me Happy Measurement Month. So I know I’m not totally mistaken. Despite events on Capitol Hill and Pennsylvania Ave. taking up so much media oxygen, I'm relatively sure that somewhere a communicator, maybe more than one, is celebrating measurement's progress.
There's reason for celebration. Advocates say a growing number of communicators no longer question why they should measure, but how and what to measure. Similarly, they want to measure smarter.
A couple of factors are prompting the growth in PR measurement. When the C-suite demands that all business units collect and analyze data, PR is not an exception. In addition, there's a plethora of free measurement tools available.
There's another reason to celebrate. Beyond counting inputs and outcomes only, as they did before, communicators increasingly are seeking to derive business insights from measurement. A significant majority (66 percent) want their media measurement to be “more insightful,” according to a recent survey from PRNEWS and PublicRelay, a media monitoring and analytics firm.
Insight from Measurement...
As PublicRelay president/CEO Eric Koefoot says, insight is not "counting impressions [more on impressions later] or [using] AVEs. It’s not raw counts...and insightful doesn’t necessarily mean dollar sales attribution either."
"Insightful is what’s working," Koefoot continues. "Who matters? Why do they matter? How do I make my limited budget go farther? How do I work smarter...what strategically is working and why? Where is my competition strong and where is it vulnerable? Similarly, where am I strong or vulnerable?”
Communicators' more advanced attitude toward measurement also is seen in the new importance they place on finding quality data. The same study found that just 19 percent of the 350 communicators surveyed said they “always…have accurate data that I can trust;” 65 percent said they “sometimes have good data, but it is not consistently reliable.” As Koefoot quips, communicators now discuss the “softness around hard numbers.”
Another reason to celebrate: Measurement advocates continue their noble attack on the use of so-called "vanity metrics," such as social media impressions. The number of impressions your campaign receives is NOT the number of people who were impressed. Still, vanity metrics abound, often as proof of excellence in industry award applications.
The Conference Board’s research chief Alex Parkinson said it diplomatically in the October edition of PRNEWS, “Conversations with executives in The Conference Board’s Councils — as well as submissions to The Conference Board’s annual Excellence in Marketing & Communications Awards — confirm the need for more sophisticated data analytics to truly demonstrate and track social media’s strategic contribution.”
All is Not Vanity
A more nuanced "vanity metrics" argument, and one that communicators are making, rails against the practice of simply citing one metric in insolation, without the context of other KPIs. Just about any metric in isolation can be considered a vanity metric, Allyson Hugley, Prudential’s VP, analytics and market research, global communications, told the PRNEWS Measurement Boot Camp in NY recently.
Don’t pop the champagne corks for measurement just yet, though. “I’m happy that more communicators apply data to prove PR value and improve PR performance,” says Mark Weiner, chair, IPR Measurement Commission, and Cision’s chief insight officer. “Still, the profession has a long way to go…I am pessimistic about those who choose to avoid PR measurement altogether.”
And measurement guru Katie Paine is only guardedly optimistic. Upbeat, last year she said, "The old, bad, stupid metrics we’ve been using for years are no longer fine.”
This year she’s concerned about the “outmoded intellectual fog that lingers around measurement.” Marketers, Paine argues, have failed to update their skill sets. “That mindset seems content with completely meaningless, but large, numbers, like impressions or social actions.”
Evidence of Paine’s argument abounds. In addition to Parkinson’s observation (above), an Edelman-LinkedIn study released today about thought leadership notes, “Most marketers are missing the opportunity to connect thought leadership efforts to measurable business impact.”
Elusive: Measurement and Business Goals
Just 26 percent of marketers can tie thought leadership to sales and business wins, the report says. They're unable to work with high-priority KPIs such as account lift, MQL and SQL. There are great benefits in thought leadership, it adds, though the actual thought leadership content is weak.
“If the risk in mediocrity is real, the risk in not knowing [because few are measuring] is probably worse,” Joe Kingsbury, Edelman’s U.S. managing director, business marketing, tells us.
Fine, so let’s look to the next generation for inspiration. Surely PR students at college and graduate school are awash in the importance of measurement. Not so fast. A recent meeting with communications and marketing graduate students found no response when your blogger mentioned the Barcelona Principles.
Alexander Laskin is a professor and director of the masters program in PR at Quinnipiac University. "Is PR measurement emphasized in academia?" we asked. His response was sobering. “Certainly not. It’s rare to find a master’s program with a course on measurement and evaluation as an elective, let alone a required course.” Incidentally, Quinnipiac is an exception on this count.
We then asked about students’ biggest struggle with measurement. “The general idea of measurement’s importance,” Laskin said.
Celebrate Measurement Month, by all means. But let's get back to work soon.
Seth Arenstein is editor of PRNEWS. Follow him at: @skarenstein