Ask around and the reasons why will often be the same: client disinterest, lack of budget, scarce resource, limited knowledge or plain old laziness.
Some will still be measuring with Advertising Equivalent Values (AEVs) and think that’s enough. None of these are reasonable excuses for failing to report the outcomes of PR campaigns. Measuring solely to justify the PR budget is equally unacceptable.
Practitioners need to demonstrate the value of campaign activity and how it helps businesses achieve their commercial objectives if PR is to step up as a profession and thrive.
PR’s credibility and influence will only be widely accepted once we can prove its contribution to strategic business decision-making and organisational success.
Good measurement is also an indicator of how good a practitioner you actually are.
Outcomes over outputs
The biggest shift that has taken place within measurement and evaluation is a move from reporting outputs and out-takes to outcomes.
Outputs, from media evaluation and web analytics to numbers of people attending an event, have always been an easy way to record what messages have gone out and their degree of exposure and audience reach.
This quantitative way of measuring has traditionally been supported by a qualitative approach to out-takes. Surveys of target audiences, search volume trends and sentiment analysis all being good examples of gauging how much an audience has been made aware of a message, understood and retained it.
Analysing outcomes requires a significant and longer-term change in approach because this relates to the degree to which a campaign has changed audience opinion, behaviour or attitudes. There’s no arguing with the value that comes from understanding the impact on target audiences, from awareness and recognition right through to recommendations and purchasing habits.
The analysis enables you to inform the PR programme and is also a language that is understood by those outside the PR team, such as members of the Board.
Business results trump outputs every time
While the better PR practitioners demonstrate outcomes within their measurement and evaluation, the best ones take it a step further and feature business results within their reports.
Communications campaigns help to deliver an organisation’s commercial goals and those wanting to prove PR’s worth – and their own - know this.
The key is to establish clear links between organisational objectives and PR outcomes so that everyone can understand how PR has helped the company achieve what it set out to. From revenue/turnover and market share to employee retention, analysis should display how PR has played its part.
Help is available
There is lots of advice and training available if you need help with measurement and evaluation.
As a starting point, every practitioner should be familiar with AMEC’s guidance on Measuring the True Value of Public Relations. Both the PRCA and Chartered Institute of Public Relations offer training and guidance on best practice.
Even so, beware introducing new metrics without wider buy in. How the Board measures performance and what its members define as success versus organisational objectives is key to how PR measurement is framed. PR practitioners must work closely with the management team and have an in depth understanding of the organisation’s business plan.
Ensuring PR campaigns are aligned to this and agreeing appropriate evaluation techniques will bring the greatest success all round.
This post first appeared on Hiscox's blog in June 2015.