Tying outcomes to communications have been a challenge for a long time.
For example, in a traditional media relations setting, how do you know if a media mention is moving the needle on reputation? On leads? On sales? On votes? On donations? And on and on.
I once worked with an agency team that had placed a client in the Wall Street Journal with a good story idea. Six months later the client’s client – a large bank that no longer exists due to industry consolidation – cited that article as a significant influence on their decision to buy their enterprise software.
It’s a good measurement anecdote, but it’s only happened to me once in 20 years. More importantly, it doesn’t scale.
Modern digital media brought web analytics which made gathering metrics easier. Yet it’s also made it harder. This is because effective campaigns today are integrated – a combined effort across earned, owned, shared and paid media – and attributing outcomes to tactics in a multi-touch omnichannel environment isn’t exactly straight forward.
That’s why 2019 JOTW Communications Survey, which was conducted in collaboration with Ned Lundquist for the second year in a row and polled 223 communicators, included three questions about measurement. Those questions were aimed at finding answers to these questions:
- Are PR pros trying to measure the effects of their work?
- What metrics are communicators tracking?
- Is PR satisfied with their ability to measure effects?
This post, which is the second among several I have planned around the JOTW Survey, addresses those questions.
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Are PR pros trying to measure the effects of their work?
The vast majority (89%) of PR professionals do measure at least some aspects of their communications efforts. Almost half of the respondents (48%) say they have measurement programs in place while 41% say they “sort of” measure the results.
That so many communicators said they “sort of” measure results is understandable given the nature of direct correlation? As one respondent wrote in an open-ended comment:
“Ours is a business where business usually comes in via referrals or business development efforts. PR is the ‘icing on the cake’ but no PR on its own is going to convince a client to ask us to build a $100 million project.”
A smaller group, 9% said they do not measure at all and 2% were unsure. This is cause for concern. Communications and PR costs money and at some point, someone is going to want to know the value for the spend. If you’re not even trying, then when that day comes, you may well be too far behind to make up the distance.
What metrics are communicators tracking?
When it comes to metrics, the most common measures communicators say they use involves a mix of old and new measures. Here are the top ten metrics respondents say they track:
1) Web traffic / web analytics: 73%
2) Impressions: 66%
3) Estimated site traffic: 60%
4) Number of 3rd party mentions or placements: 57%
5) Email open rates: 52%
6) Executive feedback: 45%
7) Clicks and CTRs: 43%
8) Employee engagement surveys: 36%
9) Conversions / registrations / downloads: 33%
10) Customer satisfaction surveys: 31%
Each of these measures has benefits and drawbacks. For example, web analytics is a solid metric to track, but it can be gamed or inaccurate. Click-fraud and referral spam are two growing problems.
There’s also the element of interpretation. That sentiment also showed up in open-ended comments like this one:
“People within organizations have their own agendas and this translates into what gets measured and how. Determining the value of these focal points to the organization is sometimes suspect.”
Similarly, impressions have drawbacks. Many communicators like them because they serve as a heuristic for the quality of a publication. Still, there’s no correlation between an impression and whether someone read an article, let alone act on based on what they read.
If there was a metric that was missing from our list of options respondents could choose from – that’s my fault and we’ll add it next year – it’s share-of-voice. But that’s not perfect either. Even if you are using expensive media monitoring tools, you have put significant effort into tuning the system to screen out press releases, scraped content, job postings and things that muck up a true share of voice comparisons.
All this just goes to show that metrics at best are largely directional. There isn’t a silver bullet and it’s a process of continual improvement. As one respondent wrote:
“Impossible to draw a solid connection between our outcomes and business outcomes. We can only show alignment.”
About one-third of respondents (29%) think their organizations do a pretty good job of communications measurement. Another 46% believe their organization has work to do on measurement. The remainder seemed rather ambivalent one way or another.
The sentiment reflected in some of the comments offers insight as to why. On the agency side, one respondent said:
“We try to ‘bake’ the measurement into the plan – but clients are resistant to paying for it – probably because they are afraid of being proven wrong.”
Yet in-house PR pros – and that was 68% of the respondents – have challenges too and the cost is definitely a factor:
“We measure the basic things, website traffic, intranet traffic, engagement – but we don’t really do deeper dives which could be beneficial but are also more costly in some ways.”
When asked whether PR measurement will be more or less important in the next 12 months, 66% said it would be “more important” or “much more important.” The remaining 34% said it would be neither more or less important. Just one person – reflected as 0% due to rounding – indicated measurement would be less important.
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In my professional opinion, you should look to metrics to guide you and provide insight for how to improve, but you have to maintain a critical eye and be open to the fact your conclusions about data could be wrong. That could mean the difference between success and failure.
As I’ve written before and added to the last slide of the survey report:
“Effective communication is complicated:
Just because a message is sent doesn’t mean it’s been received.
Just because it’s been received doesn’t mean it’s been understood.
Just because it’s been understood doesn’t mean it will affect behavior.
Just because it affects behavior doesn’t mean it will affect it in the manner in which we had hoped.”
The entire report is embedded below and is freely available for download on SlideShare.
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