The Future State of Public Relations Measurement – 2013

8 Sep

(A college class recently asked me to predict where PR measurement would be in five years.  This is what I sent them)

I believe it was Neils Bohr, or perhaps Yogi Berra, who once said, “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.”   In 2008, the public relations industry is undergoing rapid change driven by Web 2.0 phenomenon like social media, blogging, peer-to-peer communications and synchronous communications.  As the influence of traditional media diminishes due to ongoing fragmentation, public relations firms are re-inventing themselves to help clients navigate and succeed in this new reality.

Here are a few predictions for the future state of public relations measurement.  I almost guarantee these will be wrong.

More than half of all measurement dollars go to Outcomes research rather than (just) measuring Outputs. Historically the majority of PR measurement dollars have gone toward Outputs (exposure) rather than Outcomes (influence and action).  For most major PR programs, it is no longer considered sufficient to just measure Outputs.  Clients and companies increasingly demand to understand what actually happened as a result of getting a media hit rather than celebrating just getting the hit.

Cross-platform/domain measurement a hot topic – how do you measure the influence on someone who has read your blog, posted a comment, sent a tweet to 35 followers, visited another site and referred to your blog with a trackback, told four friends about your post, two of whom visited your blog as well?  Communications tools like advertising and public relations have always worked together synergistically.  By 2013, the number of ways to interact and participate in communities of interest has greatly complicated the measurement task.

Word-of-Mouth measurement will be another of the hot topics.  While both PR and Advertising claim they are the rightful ‘owners’ of WOM programs, neither is able to offer a comprehensive way to assign a value to a peer-to-peer conversation or recommendation.  By the way, it is nonsensical to try to use ad value equivalents for WOM.  Makes even less sense than using AVEs for earned print media

Marketing mix modeling is mainstream.  In response to cross-platform measurement challenges, an increase in interest in integrated marketing communications, and a continuing need to demonstrate accountability, marketing mix modeling will be commonly used in 2013 to report on the efficacy of large programs containing multiple communications tactics (advertising, PR, PA, direct, etc.)

Industry proliferation and consolidation.  The PR measurement industry is undergoing a proliferation of vendors in 2008.  For example, the number of social media measurement firms roughly doubled from 50 in 2007 to 100 in 2008.  Beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2013, there will be a series of company failures and consolidations that leaves about five large, strong measurement firms and a second tier of perhaps 20 specialist firms.

There will be a variety of free or very low cost public relations measurement tools available online that will make it very easy to obtain good Output data at low or no cost.

There will still be no standard metric for PR measurement.  Despite many efforts, there will be no agreement on a single, standard metric for public relations measurement.   Objectives vary widely and metrics need to reflect this.  In the social media space, Nielsen BuzzMetrics will be considered a de-facto standard by many practitioners.

We will still be talking about AVEs. The continuing quest for accountability and ROI will cause many to follow the easy and misguided route of ad value equivalencies.  This despite the fact that numerous professional organizations including PRSA and the IPR have come out against the further use of AVEs in the industry.

As always, thanks for reading.  -Don B

6 Responses to “The Future State of Public Relations Measurement – 2013”

  1. Brian H September 10, 2008 at 2:50 am #

    Dear Don,

    I’ve been very impressed with your insight and I have some questions regarding measurement. I work at an organization that is interested in having me come up with an ad value equivalent for the positive, bonus editorial coverage I negotiated in the past fiscal year adjacent to my ad buys in local newspapers and one national magazine. Some of the editorial coverage was front page, while other coverage was not.

    My organization would like me to quantify negotiated PR and advertising on 1:1 equivalency. They feel this is a conservative way to estimate. They will be doing these calculations relating to radio interviews and radio advertising as well. The amount of interviews and editorial is not huge, but notable.

    I have supplied articles and comments about some of the issues with AVE, but I have not been able to answer some of the questions I am getting back:

    1) Why so many continue to use AVE and why it seems to be the “industry standard”?

    2) Who has authority in the PR world to says whether AVE should or should not be used; who is able to, or has set guidelines, pertaining to the use of AVE (my organization says they have never heard of the organizations I quoted that are condemning AVE)?

    3) Why the backlash against AVE is not just a new, hypersensitive backlash against an age old practice?

    4) What is the best alternative to AVE?

    Thanks you so much in assisting me with these above questions. I appreciate your time and expertise.

    Best regards,

  2. metricsman September 16, 2008 at 4:08 pm #

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your comment. Let me attempt to answer your questions. First, since what you are describing is not the pure, earned media of the PR world, and is part of an advertising buy, I would argue the “PR” component really should just be considered another form of advertising, akin to advertorial material. How are you measuring the effectiveness of your advertising buy?

    Practitioners continue to use AVEs because of a lack of education about alternatives and the fact it is viewed as the path of least resistance to calculating an ROI. Calculating true ROI takes more consumer insight/data and money. AVEs are a legacy of bad measurement behavior more so than an industry standard per se.

    All leading PR organizations and thought leaders have stated they do not believe AVEs should be a primary PR metric. There is no one standards body in the PR profession that could edict a standard. We have de facto standards and we have best practices, and we have some legacy practices (AVEs and multipliers) that are misguided and should not be used. Your organization can simply choose not to believe any of these organizations and individuals, which appears to be the path they are on. You may not be able to present enough rationale and data to overcome their perceptions.

    Any backlash against AVEs IMHO is a recognition that in this new world of heightened accountability simply saying a PR hit is worth an ad of similar size or duration misses the true objective of PR. We need to demonstrate how PR is contributing toward meeting desired business outcomes, not the appearance cost of advertising. We want to demonstrate what PR is doing beyond just ‘showing up’.

    There is no single best alternative to AVEs. There are several alternatives to consider depending on the specific objectives of your program. What outcomes are you hoping for? If your objective is to increase unaided awareness, then measure that. If your objective is to drive event attendance, then measure number of attendees. If your PR objective is to run an advertisement or to equivicate PR to advertising, then use AVEs.

    Wish I had better answers for you. Good luck! -Don B

  3. Bobby McDonald October 6, 2008 at 1:13 pm #

    Good post! PR is moving online (while the print world is dying) and it will continue to be important to find new and better ways to measure success.

    In my small corner of online PR, I am promoting stories and press releases online. The bottom line for me is website traffic at clients’ websites. I can easily measure that using Google Analytics and It is becoming increasingly harder however, to disseminate whether increases in web traffic are due to my efforts or other variables. Google Analytics allows me to break it down to some extent but leaves some room for improvement.

  4. metricsman October 6, 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    Hi Bobby,
    Thanks for your comment. As you track web traffic, it might be interesting to pout it on a timeline and add PR events such as when articles appear. By comparing the two, you might be able to see some nice correlations that may at least indicate causality, ie. traffic was because of online PR success. Proving causality is difficult/expensive, but this simple analysis might make your case strongly enough.

    IMHO, the print world will never die – it is just being downsized and rightsized. People thought TV would kill radio, but it simply forced radio to play a different role in our lives. -Don B

  5. Pedro November 13, 2008 at 9:11 pm #

    Спасибо, хорошая статья. Подписался.


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