Five Minutes With… Dr. David Michaelson

David MichaelsonThis is David Geddes, chair of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.

Today I am talking with David Michaelson, Ph.D., founder of David Michaelson & Company, a provider of research, planning & strategy services for marketing communications. David is also a member of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation, and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Public Relations.

David, you just published an article on standards in public relations measurement and evaluation, along with Prof. Don Stacks of the University of Miami. Why are standards essential to our industry today?

With a standardized system of comparative evaluation, public relations professionals will be able to gauge the absolute performance of specific programs and specific program elements. In addition it will allow the comparative performance of prior and competitive programs. And, finally, allow us to compare that performance within industry and category, as well as the performance of the program relative to other industries or categories.

The value of comparative evaluation is found when the ability to determine if specific communication goals are being met (absolute measures) and if these changes in specific measures are significant based on the known performance of similar programs or campaigns that have been deemed successful (relative measures). These comparative evaluations allow public relations professionals the ability to measure progress and take corrective actions if needed to assure that communications goals are being achieved during the campaign.

Can we have standards and still foster innovation in research and measurement?

Absolutely and without question. In order for any standard to be effective it has to dynamic and adaptable to the current environment. Without this flexibility, any standard that is developed will quickly become irrelevant. A prime example is measuring concepts such as advocacy. In an era of communication is no longer one directional, we have to develop approaches that address this change, otherwise we will become irrelevant to the public relations community.

Do standards fly in the face of the competitive differentiation we try to achieve in our businesses?

In fact, standards will have just the opposite effect. It will raise the stakes for creativity and problem solving in communications and hold communicators to the goals that will result in successful business outcomes. The larger impact will be the acceptance of communicators as part the broader decision making process since the focus will change from outputs to being accountable in contributing to overall business objectives.

I hear the term “best practices” thrown around a lot. What is the difference between a “standard” and a “best practice”? Why is this important?

The difference between standards and best practices is quite simple, but often misunderstood. A standard as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is “an idea or thing used as a measure, norm, or model in comparative evaluations.” The operative words in this definition are “comparative evaluations.” This gets at the heart of why standard measures are an essential element in public relations.

Best practices however should not be confused with or used as a substitute for standards. Best practices are defined as: “A method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.” Standards define and determine what needs to be measured. Best practices illustrate how to best meet the objectives of the standard.

Who should be involved in establishing standards for PR research and evaluation?

This is probably the most complex and difficult challenge facing the public relations industry. Typically standards have developed through consensus. That is the model that advertising has successfully relied on. Much of that consensus however was driven by the advertisers who placed standards for measurement and testing on their agencies.  Over time, and with the development of business education, standard measures have evolved.

By contrast, corporate communicators have not always held their public relations agencies to the same expectations nor have agencies consistently provided clients with open and transparent models that meet the definition of standardized measures.

Nonetheless, public relations professionals are in a unique position to help resolve this conundrum through key organizations like the Institute for Public Relations and the Commission on Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation. These organizations consist of the leadership in corporate communications, public relations agencies and public relations education.  These organizations are where the dialogue is taking place on the need for measurement standards and where industry wide solutions can be achieved.

What kind of evidence or support should we expect before a standard is adopted?

We need to assure that the measures used to gauge public relations effectiveness are valid as well as reliable.  Validity is “the extent to which a research project actually measures what it its intended, or purports to measure.” (c.f. Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Research). Reliability is “the extent to which results would be consistent, or replicable, if the research were conducted a number of times.” (c.f. Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Research.

The specific measures Don Stacks and I include in the paper have been tested numerous times in controlled studies and meet these goals. Any standards that are eventually adopted by the industry also have to meet these expectations.

What is going to drive the adoption of standards in our industry?

Two factors are going to drive the adaptation of standards: client demand and the increasingly competitive business environment. In combination, and with the influence of standards setting organizations like the Commission and extensive education, we will be able to achieve consensus on this challenge.

Please click the following link to read the article, “Standardization in Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation”.

Thanks for talking with us today. Please stop by for future installments of Five Minute Conversations, or read past interviews at http://www.instituteforpr.org/blog/.

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7 Comments

  1. Standardized evaluation system is more important for practitioners, although best practices carry their own value. For faster implementation of standardized measurement system greater interaction between experts and practitioners is highly essential. Practitioners find it extremely difficult to implement what is presented in various forums or summits. Truth is that best practices remain restricted to daises while when it comes to executions it is standardization that becomes more important for practitioners. Take AVEs, the biggest drawback that industry is facing. Although majority of players in the industry have adopted Barcelona Principles but still we find AVE being offered by them. However silver lining is that few companies (like K D Paine Partners, Ogilvy Australia) have started taking bold steps like dropping AVE from their offerings to clients.

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  3. This is a fascinating subject.
    The idea has been tried before.
    There was a move some time ago to create an eXtensible Mark-up Language for the PR industry (XPRL).

    Perhaps we should revive the initiative.

  4. Thank you for this insight, David. Michaelson and Stacks are revolutionizing the industry with the concept of standarizing measurement, and it will be a tremendous and beneficial change that ultimately legitimizes our role in an organization. For me, this is all about strategic decicion-making.
    I agree with your point: “The larger impact will be the acceptance of communicators as part the broader decision making process since the focus will change from outputs to being accountable in contributing to overall business objectives.” In fact, my own research on inclusion of PR in the tops of organizations (C-suite) also indicates that being a conscientious advisor in trategic decision-making, acting as a “counselor” to the CEO is the way the top PR jobs are earned and maintained, as key influencers in the organiation (Bowen, 2009, Journal of Applied Communication Research, What top communicators tell us about gaining membership and access to the dominant coalition). Anything that the chief communicator can do to earn membership in the C-suite will also enhance regard and respect for the profession, as you also point out. Understanding strategy, ethical advising, and showing results are key.
    Outtanding work! Thank you for sharing it.

  5. This is one of the most solid commentaries on measurement in public relations. This paper should be required reading for everyone in the industry.

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