Measuring PR Outcomes

September 30, 2010

By Frank Ovaitt

Two hundred and twenty research and measurement professionals from 33 countries sat together in Barcelona recently and contemplated a problem that has plagued public relations since the first news-clip: the lack of standards for measuring what we do.

The occasion was the European Summit on Measurement. The resulting "Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles," debated one-by-one and voted up by the delegates, addresses:

  • The importance of goal setting and measurement.
  • Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs.
  • The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible.
  • Media measurement requires quantity and quality.
  • AVEs are not the value of public relations.
  • Social media can and should be measured.
  • Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.

So, is the job done? Or should we be underwhelmed (as some critics have suggested)? My answers to these questions are: No and no.

Let's put some things in perspective. This is the first global agreement we have seen on how to measure public relations and organizational communications. Originally the brainchild of Barry Leggetter, executive director of the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), it became the centerpiece of the summit.

To get a draft ready for Barcelona, AMEC and four other organizations worked together to shape the principles. The other organizations, each a powerhouse in its own right, are: the Institute for Public Relations, the Global Alliance, the Public Relations Society of America and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation. A one-month comment period followed the debate in Barcelona. After decades of talking about standardization in this area, there is finally some real progress and coalescence.

Second, to keep it moving forward, the AMEC Board has now ratified a commitment statement and process. Naming and shaming is not the point. Knowledge and self-regulation is, as signatories embed the principles in their professional activities.

"We recognize the importance of these principles as the first international guidelines for measuring the value of PR, and a foundation to continue developing PR metrics," says the statement. "We agree to operate our businesses using the Barcelona Principles as guidelines for planning, executing and evaluating public relations campaigns." Ketchum and Weber Shandwick have already taken the pledge, as have Royal Dutch Shell and Philips. Eventually, AMEC hopes to see several hundred parties sign on.

Third, some of the principles are already being further defined. Task forces are addressing two major gaps: What are the validated metrics for media coverage if we reject AVEs, and how shall we measure social media? Appointed by Ketchum's David Rockland (who chairs AMEC's U.S. Agency Research Leaders Group), Ruth Pestana, worldwide director of Strategic Services for Hill & Knowlton, leads the AVE task force. Tim Marklein, executive VP, Measurement & Strategy for Weber Shandwick, chairs the social media task force. The resulting proposals will be presented next week at the 8th Annual North American Summit on Measurement.

Fourth, it really isn't the details around AVEs and social media metrics that matter most. What's huge is the first three principles, which tell us that:

  • Clear goals and measurement are inextricably linked.
  • Outcomes mean so much more than outputs.
  • And we should never give up on the quest to measure our impact on business results.

Maybe we'll never get this perfect. There should always be room for improvement. But consider what it will really mean as these principles gain traction. For example, PR awards programs would disqualify entries that don't adhere to the measurement standards. Agencies and in-house communications departments would have the nerve—and a professional obligation—to stand up to clients or bosses who think they must have AVE.

Is the lack of enforcement—relying instead on self-regulation—a serious flaw? "How do you make sure journalists don't lie?" Rockland replies. "You have to know what you believe and constantly reinforce that. When industry coalesces around a set of standards like this, it marks a major step forward in our professionalism."

No, we're not there yet. And yes, it does matter.

Frank Ovaitt is executive vice president of Makovsky + Company, CEO emeritus of the Institute for Public Relations, and adjunct professor of applied public relations research at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.