PR Measurement Principle Two: The End of Assumptions
Media measurement requires quantity and quality – cuttings in themselves are not enough
With Principle One having established that PR practice must have some measureable link to business-related goals, we come to Principle Two, which seeks to establish the nature of that measurement.
The collection and counting of cuttings (and the related calculation of impressions) is a measurement solely of output, and what good is simply measuring output, especially when the basis for success is just “more is better”?
What would happen if the operations team acted on the same basis, producing as much product as they could and measuring their success simply on getting that product out to market? What if they were not concerned with whether it was being produced at the highest quality for the lowest cost, or sold at a profit, or whether people were actually buying the product at all?
A business that only cared about making stuff and putting it in stores without worrying about whether it was profitable, or was even selling, would not be a business for long. Yet communications teams that understand their only goal to be “produce public relations messages” (see Principle One) and measure that goal on volume that they get into outlets are the equivalent of such a business.
So what should PR teams be measuring then? Principle Two tells us not to drop quantitative measures, so what should we be counting? We do still need to know where our messages appeared, we just can’t use this as the end-in-itself. This is where qualitative measurement blends with quantitative. We need to refine our measurement of outputs with regard to objectives, for example, by distinguishing “top-tier” outlets by their likely influence over key audiences; in essence, understanding how many messages we had appear in publications that most matter to the people we’re trying to reach.
We can also combine qualitative and quantitative measures to understand the messaging environment. In the places where our messages appeared, did our target audience also potentially encounter competitors’ messages, or messages that could distract from or contradict our own? Understanding this will help us better understand the likely influence of our messages and provide context for the outcomes.
But simply knowing that a message did appear in an outlet with likely influence over a key audience and without conflicting messages does not yet take us completely away from making assumptions around influence. At this point, we understand the context of the message; we must also understand the content. To do this, we must utilize human analysis to assess the key themes of the coverage and associated sentiment toward the brand. If the message is based on a press release or campaign, did our message survive intact or was it modified? In either case, is our desired message presented in a neutral, positive or negative sense?
Only by understanding the context and content of our messages in such ways can we reasonably predict the likely influences or outtakes resulting from our work. And outtakes will always be a prediction (unless we perform some direct follow-up research measuring the our audience and their actual perceptions). On the other hand outcomes, or the actions that our audience takes based on the influence of our messages, these can be very tangibly measured. Of course, the measurement of factors influencing outcomes is a multivariate analysis, and finding the influence of PR messages in the context of factors like pricing, marketing promotion and advertising, placement, product design, employment figures, inflation, etc can be challenging. However, it is far better for PR to be included in such measurement, since it means that the organization believes that PR is supporting the business in a tangible way.