Five questions with PR’s “Queen of Measurement”

For years, Katie Paine has been challenging those of us in the public relations industry to change the way we evaluate the impact of our work. Her research and insights on PR measurement have fundamentally altered the way brands gauge the success of their communications initiatives, discarding metrics that don’t affect organizational objectives and focusing on those that do.

I connect with Katie periodically to discuss everything from the industry’s latest measurement trends to workshops she’s hosting. In advance of a panel discussion we took part in this summer, I posed a few warm-up questions to Katie to get the creative process rolling. Following are a few highlights from that exchange.

As public relations and marketing become increasingly integrated, what are the most common mistakes organizations make when attempting to measure their results? What are the smartest organizations doing in terms of measurement that less savvy organizations aren’t?

How much time do you have? Let’s start with confusing activity with results, not tying success to any actual business outcome and relying on what’s available (impressions and AVEs.) But the most egregious mistake is trying to prove attribution from a specific activity – i.e., how many widgets did I sell from this press release? Since this is virtually impossible to answer, they then fall back on: “How many press releases did I put out and how many were picked up?” The right answer is to agree on an acceptable proxy for attribution – i.e., downloads of the visitor guide for a travel destination or views of the “Thank you” page that is served up when someone signs up for a newsletter or donates to a cause. That’s what the smart organizations are doing these days.

How has the shift away from advertising equivalencies and toward the Barcelona Principles enabled organizations to sharpen their focus and improve their public relations campaigns?

People are increasingly embarrassed by their use of AVEs and will apologize for using them. The good news is that while adoption is still far from universal, the Barcelona Principles have at least introduced the concept of “business outcomes” into conversations about how one defines success. There is a general sense that people should be measuring outcomes and impact, even if they may not have everything in place to do so.

Over the past five years, what one factor has had the greatest influence on your approach to PR measurement?

The availability of additional data so I can measure impact. Five years ago, very few clients would give me access to their Google Analytics. Now it’s just common practice. Same thing with social analytics and even sales and CRM data. I can regularly integrate this marketing and sales data with the earned media data to see what the connections and correlations are, if any.

What is the most persistent myth you’ve encountered about the impact of social media on measurement?

I think there is a myth that the more social media data points you have, the better. Every social platform and social listening vendor touts all these different metrics that they might be able to track. However, most of them are irrelevant to the goals and objectives of the organization. The only social metrics you need are the ones that you, your client, and senior leadership agree are indicators of movement along the path to purchase. So, if you can’t draw a straight line between a “Like” and a business outcome, don’t measure it.

What is the one question clients should always ask you – but rarely do?

How much time, effort and energy should I allocate to getting a great measurement system up and running? Sadly, most people start down the path to measurement thinking that all they need to do is find the right vendor and the rest just magically happens. Having been a vendor for most of the past three decades, vendor selection is the easy part. Getting agreement on what the goals are, what you’re measuring, what the vendor is supposed to report on, and what information you really need from your measurement and evaluation system is what takes the most time and effort. And, if you don’t get consensus on those answers, no matter what vendor you pick, you will be disappointed. Everyone wants measurement up and running ASAP, but if leadership doesn’t cooperate, you’ll either get a measurement system that doesn’t tell you anything you need to know, or none at all. But, if a client comes to me with clear goals and objectives, and a clear idea of what they want on their dashboard, I can implement measurement in a month if I had to.

Dave Curley

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