The number 1 reason why PR gets no respect – stupid metrics

Written by Katie Paine, Measurement Queen

What matters to management are value and return, and things that make a difference to the bottom line, and no matter how pretty the chart you make, if all you’re showing is how many impressions you got, or how many Twitter followers you accumulated, none of that ties your efforts to the bottom line.

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I frequently get asked why PR people should care about measurement. The short answer is that you have no credibility without it. To most people, PR is that somewhat shady process of getting the media to pay attention to whatever it is you’re trying to push on them, while distracting them from the bad stuff your organization is probably doing. Then there’s PRSA’s lofty definition: Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics.” The reason for this perception gap is decades of stupid metrics and bad measurement.

For years, PR people have focused on activities not outcomes. They measured value in terms of column inches and the height of a stack of press releases (or the famous “Thud” factor as in the decibel level of the sound of that year’s clip book when it lands on the boss’ desk.) In today’s terms, that’s the equivalent of how many likes you got on a Facebook post. The result of these over inflated stupid metrics is that PR has come to be defined by what it shovels out, rather than the relationships that it builds.

It’s time to clean out the cobwebs and start fresh.

Let’s start with that concept of relationship building. In today’s environment, the need for good relationships with your publics is stronger than ever. The last decade has given PR the ability to directly talk to and build relationships with all your stakeholders, not just the media. Those relationships today are more likely to get established via a conversation on Twitter, a connection on LinkedIn, or a video on YouTube, as they are through anything in the media.

Those good relationships bring value to your organization by lowering your costs of doing business – the local community stops bringing lawyers to every meeting, your neighbors raise fewer objections to your expansion plans, your sales force spends less time explaining your company to customers, and has a better ability to listen to the needs of the marketplace so your sales cycle gets shorter. Your turnover rates go down and you spend less on recruitment.

Fostering good relationships makes sense, doesn’t it? Then why not measure relationships instead of the nearly universally discredited metric of Ad Value Equivalency? (AVE.) AVE puts a “value” on a story based on its length and what it would cost to buy that space.

The standard reason for using AVE is something like “clients demand it,” or “it’s easy for clients to digest”. To which the smart alek in me invariably responded, “If clients demanded Heroin would you provide that as well?” French fries and hot dogs are easy to digest but that doesn’t mean we should rely on them for nourishment. And like any diet of Heroin and french fries, the consequences are pretty unpleasant.

One of the realities of life is that you become whatever you value and measure. And PR has been gorging itself on AVE for so long, it has had a single minded focus on making that stack of clips higher. So is it any wonder that in the minds of senior leadership that’s all PR is about? And isn’t that why PR budgets are always the first to be cut, why senior management never has time to meet with you? Why leadership puts PR on the bottom of the meeting agenda, likely to be put off to another day.

It’s because AVE is not what’s valuable to senior management. What matters to management are value and return, and things that make a difference to the bottom line, and no matter how pretty the chart you make, if all you’re showing is how many impressions you got, or how many Twitter followers you accumulated, none of that ties your efforts to the bottom line.

Ahh you say, but AVE does show value – the value of space you didn’t have to buy with your advertising budget. But how many of those media outlets that your clips appeared in actually influence your stakeholders or target audience. And even if all of them appeared in major media outlets, take all those clips to the CMO and ask him or her how many they would have been willing to pay for? You’ll be lucky if 10% make the cut. The rest probably lack messages, desirable visuals, recommendations, brand benefits or anything else that might make a prospect want to buy your products.

The reality is that there is no evidence anywhere that an article in the back of a newspaper or magazine has the same impact as a paid ad in that same publication. And there is even less evidence that an online story has the same impact as online advertising.

Yes but, comes the next argument… there is value to impressions, isn’t there? Perhaps, but that’s where you need good metrics. Getting the word out there may or may not help your business. I can generate a ton of impressions at relatively low cost by tattooing your logo on a naked female butt and have her run naked through the streets of Dubai for a day… but will that sell product? You have no way of knowing unless you actually measure the results. Lulu lemon generated a ton of publicity in 2013, but at the end of the day, its stock price fell, it pissed off its customers and the CEO stepped down.

There was no shortage of publicity for BP and the Gulf Coast as a result of the oil spill, but the outcome as measured by stock price, tourism revenue, or the shellfish market would hardly be called successful.

In 2012 Komen for the Cure was among the most talked about charities in the country, but when its battle with Planned Parenthood was over, Komen had lost millions in funding and participation in its races was down 20%.

Still think impressions alone are enough? The reality is that in any communications effort you need more than simple exposure and column inches. You need to know what impact your efforts are having on the business and what management expects that impact to be. But take heart, you’re only six simple steps away from good measurement, and in the next six segments we’ll explain each one….