The revolution taking place in PR measurement

April 5, 2013
tape measure with PR

This post was written by Brian McDermott, Associate Vice President

Are you struggling to measure your PR efforts? Well you’re not alone. Seems as if some of my PR colleagues are also slow to embrace the revolution now taking place in PR measurement. At last week’s Ragan Communications PR Measurement Summit in Washington, D.C., a new study was released exploring the current state of measurement in the PR field.

The study, conducted by Ragan Communications and NASDAQ OMX, finds that 58 percent of PR professionals consider themselves “beginners” when it comes to measurement programs. The study also finds that 32 percent of the industry is still using the AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency) method, an old standard that is mostly frowned upon today. Only 30 percent of the industry is measuring for competitive share of voice, and 21 percent of PR professionals don’t do any type of measurement at all.

What accounts for these statistics? And why is there a lack of an industry standard method of measurement in the public relations field? After attending Ragan’s Measurement Summit, I think I finally have some answers.

  • First off, I was surprised that so many in the industry continue to use Advertising Value Equivalency, a mostly inaccurate standard that tries to put a dollar value on media placements through arbitrary multiples. AVE was never a fair standard, but it’s more irrelevant today than ever before. You can’t put an AVE on something that doesn’t have any advertising to begin with … like a blog post, tweet, Facebook like, or an upvote on Reddit. Yet there are those in the field trying to put AVE on tweets and blogs, and dollar values on Facebook likes. It just doesn’t relate.
  • Social media is still a new world for some in the field. For every PR pro who has been on Twitter since 2007, there is another who is just now learning what a hashtag is. Not everyone consumes social media at the same pace. Some of my colleagues at the conference were beginners at social media, but they are interested, they are asking the right questions, and they want to learn. That is promising because in order to adopt an industry standard of measurement, we must first at least understand all that needs to be measured.
  • The choices of tools available for PR measurement are endless. It seems like there is a new service appearing literally every day, and trying to keep abreast of all the changes is no small feat. Each year here at Gregory FCA, we research and assess the available tools. And every year the results are different. So just like the media that these tools measure, they are constantly evolving and changing. Part of Ragan’s study focuses on which paid tools are being used most often in the industry. And although services like CisionPoint (16 percent), Radian6 (13 percent), Sysomos (4 percent), and HootSuite (17 percent) are in the mix, 41 percent of respondents chose “other” as their paid tool of choice — once again proving that there is no standard, no industry leader for measurement.
  • Time and cost are two challenges that every PR practitioner must face. Make no mistake, some of the tools mentioned above are very pricey. It can cost $50K and up per year for the right tool, and that cost doesn’t include training and ongoing management of the tools. Firms that aren’t investing in such tools simply are not optimizing value for their clients. After all, how can you determine results if you aren’t monitoring the impact of your communications strategy in real time to audiences that matter most?
  • Many in the industry seem unsure of measuring sentiment as the industry’s faith in automated sentiment analysis begins to wane. Automated sentiment lacks a human element. The algorithms cannot detect irony, sarcasm, or vernacular (all commonly appearing in social media). In fact, Coca-Cola did its own study where it compared automated sentiment results to human raters, finding widespread differences. Many of today’s measurement tools offer some form of automated sentiment analysis. While they are worth considering, be forewarned that the industry is falling skeptical of a tool’s ability to automatically score public opinion sentiment of an issue, brand, product, or company.

So as AVE continues to go the way of the dinosaurs, and late adopters to social media catch up with the early adopters and early majority, and automated sentiment becomes accepted as flawed, a more standard outlook on PR measurement can evolve. And the savvier the industry becomes, the more it can demand from paid measurement tools, resulting in better tools, and hopefully a standardization of the tools themselves. Meanwhile, as we continue to improve our measurement skills and continue to learn as much as we can about social and traditional media, we might just be moving toward new measurement standards that would serve the best interest of our industry and clients.

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