It’s time online PR got serious about measurement

One of the most interesting changes taking place as the PR industry evolves into an online discipline is the increased emphasis on measurement. In the old days of offline PR, little attention was paid to systematically analysing the relative success of campaigns, because measuring PR is hard to do. Measures that attempted to pin a quantifiable return on investment to PR activity, such as Advertising Value Equivalent were woolly at best.

But that’s all changing and it seems that PR isn’t getting a free ride any more. All of a sudden, acronyms like ROI and KPI are being applied to an industry that has long been used to justifying its budget with a ring-binder full of shiny, laminated press-clippings. There is now a far greater expectation that PR should provide hard evidence of its impact on the bottom line.

There are two things PR agencies can do about this:

  • Keep banging on about how the qualitative nature of PR makes it impossible to measure in the same way as other disciplines
  • Figure out how we can use all of these new metrics which are available in the online world to put together some kind of robust and repeatable framework for measuring the value of PR activity with some degree of consistency

You might like to take a guess at which of those approaches is likely to win the most new business.

Of course, there’s already a lot of healthy debate and discussion about PR measurement in the blogosphere, and it’s no surprise that a lot of the big names in PR have their own ideas about the most effective approach.

On the one hand, it’s good that there’s so much interest in solving the problem, but on the other hand, it looks unlikely that an industry-wide consensus will be reached any time soon. Obviously, everybody wants to implement a measurement standard that best represents their own strengths, and it doesn’t help that any discussion on the subject invariably gets sidetracked into an esoteric debate about the nature of influence.

Obviously there’s still a long way to go before this is anywhere close to being solved, but at least there now seems to be broad acceptance that rigorous measurement will be key to the PR industry’s future.

However the measurement debate unfolds, I think it’s absolutely key to ensure that the metrics used are properly aligned with the client’s business goals.  All too often, arbitrary KPIs are chosen simply to provide a tick-box for PR staff to show that they’ve done some work, with little consideration into how exactly they help the business achieve its ultimate aims. And that’s a far worse situation to be in than the old days where we relied solely on qualitative reporting, which at least had some kind of value.

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