Why Create Public Relations Metrics Standards Without PR?

Today's guest post is by Peppercomm co-founder and managing partner, Ed Moed.

ComparingThe Institute of Public Relations is doing its best to move our industry to the next level by finally creating industry wide measurement standards.

I applaud this effort. For far too long the public relations world was never taken seriously by anyone controlling a real P&L. That’s because money flowed out the door for big and small campaigns, yet most professionals had no viable way to truly show whether that money was well spent. By creating some semblance of standards, at least there will be a basic, high level playbook for anyone in the industry to follow to better track and apply metrics to their programs. According to this recent IPR blog post, it is clear that variables like audience reach for traditional print media, value of social media and advocacy in survey research will now have a greater standard by which all can apply metrics.

Here’s the challenge I see (however). The discipline known as public relations has undergone a heck of a lot of change in just the last few years. For the last 60-70 years, media relations (earned media) and other third party endorsement approaches always fell directly under the PR banner. But now, and into the future, what constitutes public relations versus digital communications versus content development versus even advertising is really up for grabs.

I’ll take a bold step now. My belief is that in five years, public relations may not even be a phrase that we use or associate with anymore. No, based on the absolute paradigm shift we are all experiencing, agencies will be remolded as developers of content and facilitators of engagement (in fact, we’re actually seeing this transformation right now). And, whether that content is earned, owned or bought makes no difference… as long as it helps brands engage better with their key audiences. That means agencies will be discipline and channel agnostic, integrated and completely not about PR or advertising or direct marketing. That’s because corporate communications and marketing folks won’t care. Instead, they will just want content and engagement solutions.

I digressed.

Let’s come back to my original question in this post. How does one create Public Relations industry standards when what will need to be measured undoubtedly will cut across so many more disciplines and channels than earned media, social media and other traditional PR approaches? That’s the challenge I see with any standards that are now being created to SOLEY measure public relations. While again, it is a novel gesture, it really doesn’t make sense.

Instead, what is truly needed are metrics that can allow communicators (and marketers) to better understand how all their methods of engagement actually work to create real results or (my favorite acronym) ROI. The plain fact is that even now any true research professional would tell us that no discipline can be accurately measured in a vacuum. That’s because a media relations campaign (as an example) might be generating great publicity, but when one assesses how a company truly improved its image, there are always many other factors that had direct or or indirect impact to that help that effort (including so many other forms of marketing, customer service, etc.).

It isn’t going to happen anytime soon. But, my suggestion to IPR would be to partner with the 4As and those associations which represent other key communications/marketing disciplines. Together, they can attempt to create the first holistic measurement standard that matters and is sustainable into the future.  Short of that, I  believe those in the PR world will continue to search for some type of holy grail… even after a new industry wide public relations standard is launched.

One thought on “Why Create Public Relations Metrics Standards Without PR?

  1. Great points, Ed. Here’s the thing about many of the traditional measures: we don’t label the measures for what they are. Circulation numbers or Nielsen ratings for traditional media don’t tell us “engagement” They tell us how many people subscribe to a publication, or how many people who have a Nielsen box had their TVs on a certain channel at a certain time. They tell us the potential audience that might have had content on…
    What we measure is important because it outlines what we think success looks like. And too much measurement is focused on increasing certain numbers that don’t necessarily map back to strategic goals. We may know intuitively that gathering arbitrary numbers that don’t map back to any sort of strategic outcome is useless. Yet, that way of thinking is so deeply ingrained, everything else is dismissed? (For instance, rather than looking at how deeply a B2B social media account is engaging with key thought leaders in their field, success is measured by total number of followers or mentions.
    I think that’s why a whole wealth of campaigns are deemed a success by the measurement standards but haven’t really done anything for the company.
    You say that PR may be gone as a way of thinking in 5 years, and I think that may in some senses be true. Certainly, thinking of PR as “press relations” may be gone, especially now that the “public” have such direct means of access to connect with a company. That means basing our measures solely on “media relations” logics could leave us once again struggling to find the metrics that matter.