Setting standards for public relations measurement may not sound sexy, but I would argue that it’s one of the hottest new developments in public relations this year.
When it comes to determining the success of public relations campaigns, practitioners have long measured a number of variables, including output metrics (such as “reach,” “impressions,” “web site visitors,” and tone), outcome metrics (such as awareness, understanding, perceptions, and intent), and business outcome metrics (ROI, customer loyalty, etc.).
Because there is a market-driven imperative to measure campaign success, our profession needs to create a toolkit of consistent, reliable, and comparable metrics that would allow practitioners to work more efficiently, to work more intelligently, to build organizational knowledge, and to document how public relations contributes to building organizational value. In the specific case of social media, a lack of consensus about measurement standards has led to client trepidation.
The time has come when we, as public relations practitioners and researchers, must develop industry-wide measurement standards. As an executive at a global automotive company told us recently, “We can’t afford the ‘dueling banjos’ of measurement anymore. We need to develop a position on standard definitions and metrics now or be left behind.” An executive at a major food and beverage company remarked that, “We must “create a standard measurement system across all programs and campaigns to deliver consistent, comparable data.”
Why do standards matter? Suppose you’re the Chief Communications Officer of a corporation with four business units, each working with its own internal public relations group, agency partner, and measurement firm. You have directed your staff to compare program tactics and results, using measurement, as the basis to understand what works and what does not work so well. You assign your chief of staff the task of reviewing program measurement results for the past year in order to develop a measurement knowledge center. Two weeks later, the chief of staff returns with her hands in the air; it seems that each business units, each agency, has been using its own metrics, making comparison quite difficult, if not impossible.
Help is on the way. The Coalition for Public Relations Research Standards has brought together leading professional organizations to address standardization of the most important measurements: Council of Public Relations Firms, Institute for Public Relations, PRSA, Global Alliance, and AMEC. We will be adding European, Latin American, and APAC organizations in the near future. Because standards are market-driven—voluntary, not imposed—client organizations will be part of the review and adoption process. The customer panel, composed of companies such as General Electric, General Motors, Southwest Airlines, and McDonald’s, will make the final determination that “this looks like a standard we can use.”
Under the Coalition’s umbrella, working groups composed of subject matter experts are developing proposed standards in the areas of social media measurement, traditional media measurement, communications lifecycle, ROI, and ethics. The Coalition has recently launched a microsite for the publication of proposed standards. This web site is the hub for review and comment by practitioners.
The Coalition took shape about a year ago when we realized that groups within the Council of Public Relations firms and other industry organizations were all working to address this challenge. Leaders within our industry decided to convene a steering committee and fold these initiatives together into one. The result is an unprecedented example of industry collaboration that will serve our collective interests as well as the interests of clients.
Key Benefits of Standards for Firms
- Ability to learn what works and what doesn’t work
- More credible measures to show to other functional areas within client firms
- Better ability to sell firm services to clients.
- Measurement becomes more accessible to account teams and firms.
- Better ability to compete based on smart, creative application of the standards.
Public relations firms stand to benefit a great deal from the development and adoption of measurement standards. At present, PR firms spend large amounts of time educating clients about why they use specific measures. With standards in place, firms can go beyond the basics and focus on delivering real insights. Firms will compete based on how they use and apply the standard measurements.
So how can you help? First, take a look at our standards website. As more standards are agreed upon and rolled out, please review our work, tell us if you like it or not, and make suggestions. Within firms, I’d ask leaders to encourage their staff—account staff as well as research staff—to learn about these measurement standards, adopt these standards, and let your clients know that you are adopting industry standards.
If you have your own thoughts about where and how standards might best be used, we’d appreciate hearing about it!
We are interested in hearing about where are the macro and micro areas where we do need standards.
This year, we’ve gotten to the point of getting to some agreed upon standards. Five years ago, people might have been skeptical we could have achieved this. Collectively we need to say we’re listening to the marketplace who say they want standards. We’re getting our act together and are going to roll out more within the next year. This is the most organized, thoughtful, logical initiative around measurement that’s happened. That’s because of market pressures and the support of the organizations. Standards give a common language for people to talk to each other. The industry is ready for it.
Benefits to firm leaders:
- They’ll have the ability to have comparable measurement data so they can work more smartly and efficiently because they can learn what works and doesn’t work.
- More consistent and credible measures to show to other functional areas within the company and to clients.
- We can sell programs and ideas better to clients. It will help us to grow if we have this figured out.
- Account teams and firms that do their own measurement will have resources to use that will save them a lot of time and money.
- Adopting these standards will allow you to become more competitive and innovative. You can compete based on how to USE and apply these standards to deliver insights.