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PR measurement obstacles & solutionsPR’s continuing struggle with measurement confounds many PR measurement experts.

Although most PR managers appreciate the benefits of measurement, PR agencies and corporate departments cling to inferior metrics that emphasize viewership — such as total reach or impressions — rather than business outcomes.

Most agency and client-side executives surveyed for the Global Communications Report believe total reach is the most common form of measurement (68%), followed by impressions (65%) and content analysis (64%). Fewer stressed brand perception (47%) or return on investment (41%). Almost a third (30%) say they use advertising value equivalency (AVE), which PR measurement experts almost universally denounce as an inappropriate PR metric.

In addition, an AMEC survey revealed that 56% of communications professionals are unhappy with the current availability of information, 35% are unacquainted with the valid metrics framework, and 63% are dissatisfied with the ability to demonstrate the impact of communications on business outcomes.

PR Measurement Obstacles

Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations, sees three reasons why PR measurement efforts frequently fall short.

Over-reliance on media. Focusing solely on media measurement provides an incomplete picture. For a more complete view, PR can also employ other methods such as surveys, experiments, and predictive modeling made possible by the increased access to big data.

Success metrics. All too often, PR seeks to win acclaim by reporting unrealistic results that lack credibility. Such was the case when the Washington Redskins counted impressions to claim that more than 7.84 billion people read about their training camp within a three-week period. That’s more than the entire population of the world. PR can gain greater respect and credibility by using realistic metrics that produce credible data and that are tied to business outcomes.

Confusing insights and data. PR often uses the buzz term “insights” interchangeably with “data” and “metrics.” Data are not insights. “Insights are an extra step in the process where the data is interpreted and application to the business is made that may have not been made otherwise,” McCorkindale asserts.

A shortage of qualitative information. Qualitative research from focus groups or surveys can answer some of the “why” questions that quantitative methods cannot. However, relying on smaller samples as the gospel with qualitative research can create problems with generalizations, she cautions.

Misguided intentions. PR should not employ measurement to prove its value compared to other corporate departments. Instead, measurement should be used to improve PR. “Research and insights should save time and money, and help support our decisions by also narrowing options and pinpointing issues,” she writes.

More PR Measurement Obstacles

Other commentators cite other PR measurement hurdles.

Fear of numbers. PR pros typically dislike or even fear numbers and data. That math phobia may be why they chose PR as a career in the first place. Unfortunately, that avoidance of measurement means numbers-orientated C-suite executives often view suspiciously a PR department or agency that lacks data to demonstrate success. Online courses in statistics and data analytics, now deemed must-have PR skills, can boost PR professionals’ confidence in handling data – and help their careers.

Finding top talent. Attracting and retaining top talent is the greatest challenge facing PR executives surveyed by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations for the Global Communications Report. Almost two-thirds (62%) value analytics skills. Only the basic skills of writing, strategic planning and verbal communications are viewed as more important. PR may be able to attract desirable talent by recruiting from outside its ranks, something it has not traditionally done.

Lack of integrated tools. Most media monitoring tools do not integrate traditional media monitoring and social media monitoring, or do a poor job of integration. Traditional media monitoring vendors typically don’t understand social media listening, and most social media listening companies did not care about or were bad at traditional media monitoring. However, new platforms can now perform both functions well and integrate different data streams from traditional media, social media as well as internal communications into a single dashboard.

Bottom Line: PR agencies and corporate departments face many challenges in implementing PR measurement programs that produce accurate, meaningful results. However, it’s possible for PR to overcome those challenges in order to improve PR strategies and demonstrate PR’s value in advancing the organization’s mission.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.