To Measure or Not to Measure (PR Effectiveness), Part 1

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka The PRDude

Yesterday, the nice folks at Thompson Reuters and the Bulldog Reporter hosted a webinar — 2010 PR Measurement Practices.  I was scheduled to participate in the live version, but had a schedule conflict: A visit to the periodontist.

(Full disclosure: Last week I had emergency oral surgery to treat an abscess.  For the uninitiated, an abscess is an infection beneath the gum.  Here’s one reason why I opted for emergency surgery rather than wait: “Untreated abscesses may get worse and can lead to life-threatening complications.”  Enough on my dental situation; back to public relations.)

Today, I caught up with the webinar, which should remain live for a few weeks or more.  First, an account of what I found particularly intriguing from the first 30 0r so minutes, along with a few personal thoughts.

Tomorrow, I will chronicle what took place in during the second half of the hour-long presentation, with particular emphasis on the “Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles.”

  1. A Tale of Two Surveys — Participants received the results from two surveys on the subject, “Is measurement of public relations activities important to those in the C-Suite?”  Greg Radner,  SVP at Thompson Reuters, provided insight.  One was a previously launched, multi-question survey of 571 PR  agency and corporate professionals, the other a spot survey of the 343 webinar participants.

    The results were relatively equal on the general question on the value of measurement: More than 90 percent believe measurement is extremely important, important or somewhat important.   However, 1.1 percent of the earlier survey and just one member of the webinar group maintained measurement was “not at all important.”

  2. Who Says Print is Dead? — A question within the formal Thompson Reuters survey asked: “Which quantitative results do you measure and report on regularly?”  Surprisingly, the respondents ranked print coverage of the organization the highest at 84 percent and social media the lowest in the five categories at 66 percent.

    Filling in the middle were TV and radio coverage (72 percent), media impressions from news releases (71 percent) and blog mentions (70 percent).

  3. Southwest Soars to New (Measurement) Heights — Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has long been recognized for incorporating strategic, leading-edge public relations and social media into its communications and marketing initiatives.  Communications Analyst Ashley Pettit said the airline builds measurable objectives into every new program and aligns its public relations objectives with its business objectives.

    Ms. Pettit pointed out that using source codes and other measurement tools for news releases, blog and Facebook posts and employee communications can yield tangible dividends — to the tune of $3 million to $3.5 million in revenue on August 12.

Okay, now my thoughts:

  • Who was the lone dissenter and who comprised that 1.1 percent of survey respondents who believes measuring public relations activities has no value today?  What world are they living in?  Certainly not a realistic one.  Providing measurement related to the objectives of a true public relations plan has long been a challenge. Today’s technology gives public relations professionals many more tools that didn’t exist even a few years ago.
  • Daily newspapers are folding and news holes are shrinking; magazines sell fewer ad pages and have fewer subscribers than a decade ago.  Yet, public relations professionals use print results in higher numbers than broadcast or online coverage to quantify effectiveness of communications.  Does this mean those in the C-Suite still aren’t convinced of the value behind social media?
  • Southwest has garnered lots of industry recognition as a well-run business and great place to work.  But perhaps more attention should be allocated to the way Southwest has made effective — and measurable — public relations and communications a pivotal factor in all business decisions.   This is testimony to the classic definition of public relations, as noted in “Effective Public Relations,” as being a “management practice.”  Southwest’s communications programs are successful in large part because its public relations and marketing teams have the total, unwavering support of management.