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HomeNewsPR pros: Time to move away from ‘volume and vanity metrics’

PR pros: Time to move away from ‘volume and vanity metrics’


“We need to take a clean sheet and think about how we represent our work in relation to business or reputation goals and then use technology, data, and discipline to hold ourselves accountable to these goals in all we do”
Andrew Bowins, executive director, corporate reputation and digital engagement, KPMG

 

Where are we making genuine headway when it comes to using measurement and analysis to prove earned media campaign successes and ROI?

In this age of content pollution where everyone is a publisher, the importance of third-party advocacy through earned media is becoming the gold standard we need to strive for. The challenge is that we have not yet, as an industry, cracked the code on how to represent our work. Dated models such as impression measurement, ad equivalency, and volume metrics simply don’t get the attention of the boardroom. Nor do these types of metrics provide a business leader with any insights to take action on.

The good news is technology and a generation of new thinkers have started to crack this code. Technology, big data, AI, and a host of monitoring tools now allow us to see, organize, and measure earned media as it happens. The bad news is that our profession has not quite yet figured out how to use it. But progress is being made. The genuine headway being made is in the simple truth that volume metrics no longer matter. The headway is realized when we shift the discussion from volume to insights and are able to give the C-suite a trend analysis, a snapshot of message pull-through compared to others, or a look at work that goes beyond “what hit did you get for me today.”

The PR industry is entering into a golden age of comms that lives at the intersection of big data and storytelling. The question we need to ask is whether we are ready to change with the times or hang onto our old ways of thinking about measuring earned media. The tools are available, the theory is sound, and the opportunity is ours to take if we dare.

What area needs the most attention and improvement?

A changing of the guard is needed. Not the people who proudly claim PR as their profession need to change, but instead change needs to come from within our industry.

It’s OK to say we have missed the mark in the past and that theories like the Barcelona Principles and others were way too academic for practical use. Instead, we need to take a clean sheet and think about how we represent our work in relation to business or reputation goals and then use technology, data, and discipline to hold ourselves accountable to these goals in all we do.

Every team may have different goals and different needs but we should “standardize” our models of measurement, move away from volume and vanity metrics and get “religious” with regard to how we show up and earn our seat in the boardroom. If we don’t, we are simply a deli counter taking orders and making sandwiches.

How has the role of earned media evolved with your clients?

Earned media is back in vogue. After years of content pollution brought on by social media, brand publishing, and company newsrooms, we have rediscovered what we have always known, third-party advocacy expressed by a trusted news source moves mountains.

I am not discounting the importance and power of social media and citizen journalism. It is very powerful and it is here to stay. That said, for our profession, the advocacy and weight of a positive piece of journalism trumps all other. In a sense, the move back toward earned media reminds us, “What is old is new again.”

In fact, it’s PR 101 – retrofitted for the digital age.

 


“There has definitely been an evolution of earned media with brands. I remember doing clip counts and clip books. Then we evolved to calculating impressions, but sometimes, impressions were overinflated”
Tina McCorkindale, president and CEO, Institute for Public Relations

 

Where are we making genuine headway when it comes to using measurement and analysis to prove earned media campaign successes and ROI?

Tying results to organizational goals and outcomes is where the industry is truly making headway, but we aren’t there yet. This is really the sweet spot. If you can say X was influenced to this degree by Y, and parcel out that influence while fleshing out other impacting factors, it can be extremely valuable data that can be used to explain past behavior and predict future actions as best as possible. However, this is just a small piece of a much larger puzzle, especially outside the walls of a specific campaign.

Additionally, with the proliferation of big data, more sophisticated data analysis and modeling techniques are being used. This includes combining more traditional analysis with other areas such as behavioral science or anthropology. Integrating data with currently existing data is helpful, but organizations need to know what data is being collected, how is it being analyzed, and how the data can provide answers to the questions.

What area needs the most attention and improvement?

Taking a step back and really analyzing what company X wants to know is key. We can do widgets and charts all day, but if there is nothing driving its creation, then who cares? The questions of why, what do we want to understand (which can easily be done with exploratory research), and how does this benefit company X should be at the forefront of everything we do. Sometimes, we chase that shiny red ball with no purpose or value, but the charts look pretty. This is not the right approach.

Therefore, everything should start from an overall research strategy of what you are trying to measure as well as why are you trying to measure it. Validity also plays a role in terms of are you actually measuring what you intend to measure, and this is not always the case in our profession. I’ve seen some pretty clever formulas that purport to measure X, but they are based on faulty calculations. Our industry needs standard terminology so when someone says, “reach,” we all know what that is and how it’s measured. We are making progress, but we have many more miles to go on our measurement journey.

How has the role of earned media evolved with your clients?

There has definitely been an evolution of earned media with brands. I remember doing clip counts and clip books. Then we evolved to calculating impressions (typically based on clip counts or circulation size). Sometimes, impressions were overinflated. In fact, I remember one company multiplying the circulation size by four because they said four people read each newspaper daily. Crazy.

Then, we moved to other measures such as key messages, spokesperson visibility, and sentiment. With social, more data can be collected with more sophisticated analysis. Companies are integrating earned media metrics with other data that may be directly or indirectly tied to earned media.

I also see more awareness and attitudinal metrics of key audiences being used to gauge the success of earned media. Was it recalled? Was it retained? And do the attitudes and awareness link up with earned media? So yes, while some mainstays of measurement will always be around, our industry will continue to evolve in a good way.

 

 

“We still need to do more to make a stronger connection between earned results and business outcomes, so the conversation isn’t just limited to discussions about reach, tonality, and share of voice”
Oscar Suris, EVP, corporate communications, Wells Fargo

 

Where are we making genuine headway when it comes to using measurement and analysis to prove earned media campaign successes and ROI?

First, there is progress in the fact that PR professionals have widely accepted the notion that our work without the power of measured results is an incomplete effort, at the very least, and at its worst, a disservice to our clients. We still need to do more to make a stronger connection between earned results and business outcomes, so the conversation isn’t just limited to discussions about reach, tonality, and share of voice.

What area needs the most attention and improvement?

I still would like to see a better integration of news media and digital outcomes, so social, print, and especially broadcast, are all viewed and understood through one source and lens.

How has the role of earned media evolved at your brand?

It has continued to increase in value, particularly earned content that is generated through old-fashioned media relations. When conversations about our brand are at their greatest in terms of audience size, engagement, and frequency, more often than not there is compelling earned content driving a significant portion of the conversation, or what we used to call “news.”

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