common PR measurement mistakesMeasurement offers the public relations industry one of its top growth opportunities. PR agency executives surveyed by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations ranked measurement third out of 18 potential growth drivers. Two-thirds of agency executives and over half (54%) of in-house PR executives say measurement is very or extremely important as a growth driver, states the center’s Global Communications Report done with the Holmes Report.

Yet PR measurement remains surprisingly unsophisticated. Many PR teams still focus on obsolete and discredited metrics such as advertising value equivalencies (AVEs), impressions and number of social media followers rather than on business outcomes. Fewer than half employ social media listening strategies, such as real-time monitoring on conversations or changes in opinion or actions.

“Measurement remains the holy grail in the PR industry,” stated Fred Cook, the center’s director, in its report. “Everyone agrees that it’s a huge growth opportunity but few seem to have figured out an integrated approach to determining the real return on investment for communications.”

With that in mind, we’ve gathered the most common PR measurement mistakes from measurement experts.

Comparisons to the wrong competitors. Defining competitors helps formulate successful strategies, but brands frequently compare themselves to the wrong competitors. “The most common mistake I see is a brand comparing themselves with the biggest brand in their industry, even though their brand is much smaller and serves a completely different group of clients,” says  Kim Do at Lewis, a PR agency. Compare your organization to competitors in the same geographical locations, in the same vertical markets or those seeking the same media audience.

Incorrect use of PR measurement tools. PR measurement tools can deliver data in wildly different ways. It’s essential to understand the data each tool provides, their strengths and weaknesses, and to apply tools consistently to provide “apples to apples” comparisons. “Don’t create two comparable social metrics reports from two different tools,” Do advises. “Chances are the data behind each will be very different.”

Unclean, unreliable, or duplicated data. Accurate media measurement for PR and marketing depends on accurate, reliable and unduplicated data that comes with each media clip. With most PR professionals getting data from multiple sources, there’s a high probability of duplicate clips and duplicated data. When our service was switching between indexing systems, we ran the systems in parallel for a while. Within a day, we discovered that we had eliminated duplicate clips as planned, but that we were double-counting the viewership data. Fortunately, we found and corrected the problem quickly. Check how you data are aggregated from multiple sources. Every duplicate media mention in your archive will throw off your analytics.

Selecting the wrong goals. Picking goals that do not connect to business objectives is a common PR measurement error. “The problem with most PR programs is nobody says to senior leadership, ‘Our business goal is to increase revenue, reduce cost, and grow market by X. How does what we do every day in PR contribute to that?” Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing, told Arketi Group. Measurement experts recommend first learning management’s top goals, and then selecting PR metrics that report progress toward those corporate goals that involve leads, revenue and profitability.

An obsession with awareness. All too often, PR says its goal is to increase awareness. Paine calls that a red herring. A better goal is to educate your audience about what your brand does and why it matters to them.

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, says Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations.

The “success theater” trap. PR teams sometimes track unhelpful metrics in order to boast to clients or corporate leaders, McCorkindale says. While they report unrealistically huge numbers, they do little to reveal the real value of PR. Case in point: 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.

Emphasizing data over insights. Many analysts like to report reams of numbers. The key to real success in PR measurement is to sift through the vast amount of data to find actionable insights.  Employ analysts capable of uncovering those insights, either in-house or through a third-party service.

Not integrating data. Many PR measurement tools often do not integrate data from traditional media, social media monitoring and earned media and owned media, or do a poor job if they do. Not integrating data into a single portal produces a difficult to understand array of numbers. PR can miss meaningful connections between data sources. The first-class media monitoring dashboard integrates analytics from all media and social networks, including the client’s Google Analytics. An integrated analytics approach provides a 360-degree view of how earned media, marketing or social media campaigns impact key business objectives.

Bottom Line: When done correctly, PR measurement can help improve PR campaigns and prove PR’s value to clients and C-suite executives. PR measurement often falls short, however. Avoiding these common mistakes can help put in place an outstanding PR measurement program.