Sandra Ericson|Feb 13, 2013

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

This is a popular saying for those who study analytics (apparently this phrase hung in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton University) and it certainly sums up today’s public relations measurement debate.

The problem with measurement is not so much a question of whether we need to do it (yes), but how we’ll do it and how we’ll sync up as a community to ensure we’re comparing apples to apples.

The industry has stepped up to steer this along through the Coalition for PR Research Standards. With members from a multitude of national PR organizations like PRSA and the Council of PR Firms, the Coalition is working toward a list of standards that define the terms that help us speak in a common language (reach, engagement, awareness).

This is a valuable process but it shouldn’t be mistaken for a solution. For example, just because you know what awareness is and how to calculate it doesn’t mean it should be the sole measure of your campaign. Consumers who are aware don’t necessarily translate to consumers who act the way you want them to. (Read rbb’s Breakout Brands consumer insights study for more on this.)

Designing a measurement program for your brand is a comprehensive campaign in and of itself. The right measurement strategy, presented properly, can help earn more dollars, generate buy-in for the next campaign and make PR the star of the marketing team.

As any PRSA Silver Anvil judge will tell you, setting the right objectives and mechanisms for measuring their outcomes is key to any successful program. It’s certainly critical to our results-driven philosophy at rbb and why we take such pride in winning awards, because we know the outcomes made a difference for our brand partners.

I’ve recently taken on the responsibility of Director of Results Measurement for rbb to focus on just that: Continuing to evolve rbb’s measurement philosophy and sharing our approach with those who are committed to support the relationship between PR and business results.

The work being done by the Coalition is important and we’ll follow it closely. We abide closely by PRSA’s Code of Ethics and a standard will help ensure that, as the PR profession continues to evolve to include social media strategists, content creators, former journalists and other single practitioners, there is a guiding example to follow.

Take, for example, advertising equivalencies (ad eq.). Many PR professionals use these as a method for finding common ground with marketing executives and others with a background in advertising. In basic form, this metric assigns a value to earned media in relation to how much it would have cost to buy it in advertising.

The problem, as pointed out by the Institute of Public Relations, is that there is no evidence of the linkage between the value of a news piece and advertising. And this is a metric that has stayed stagnant while the media universe has seen more change over the last five years than nearly any other industry.

PR has always had an undeserved inferiority complex compared to its cousins on the advertising and marketing side, so for one, I’m glad to bid adieu to ad eqs.

So then what? This is the burning question on every PR person’s lips and one that my new role will allow me to explore in depth and share with you. Some people might not like my initial answer which is, there is no cookie cutter answer. A B2B HR company may have nothing in common with a consumer products brand. So why should they use the same metrics for success? The measurement of a program should be as custom designed as the program itself.

It’s what rbb’s Breakout Brand philosophy is all about. Don’t follow the leader – look beyond the status quo to really find out what makes your target audiences tick and what makes them choose you over the competition. Be ethical, understand the rules and then break out by listening and learning.

Measurement is a cafeteria plan – there’s something for everyone. But first, you have to know your dietary restrictions, what really makes your mouth water and how much room you have in your belly.

I look forward to planning the measurement menu together with you.


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