Five Minutes with… Shonali Burke

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

Today I am talking with Shonali Burke, ABC, a public relations consultant, advocate for PR measurement and evaluation, and a leading commentator on at her blog and on Twitter. Before starting her business, Shonali was Vice President, Media & Communications, at the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, and has both small and large agency experience. She’s accredited through IABC, and has been actively involved with the association for several years, having been the former Director of Marketing on IABC’s Accreditation Council, and is the Immediate Past President of IABC/DC Metro, the largest IABC chapter in the US.

Shonali, to begin, how did you develop an interest in PR measurement?

I’ve always been very goal-oriented. Many years ago, I worked at a small firm in San Francisco, and my job focused primarily on publicity. Getting good media placements for clients was always a rush, but I found myself wondering what good these were really doing for the clients. When I started asking about it, I was directed to AVE as the “measure” of our work, but I wasn’t convinced. So I did some research, and came across Katie Paine’s (who is now a dear friend and mentor) newsletter and website. At the time, I served on the board of a local PR club, and Katie offered to do a workshop for us, which I was thrilled about. That’s how and when I started learning about PR measurement.

Measurement of traditional media and measurement of new media. Are they fundamentally different, or is it the application of the same principles to different channels?

They can be the same or different, depending on which way you look at it. If you’re going to apply the traditional PR measures, and the most common one is “impressions,” then they’re completely different, because it’s very difficult to accurately measure that in social (not that it’s always accurate in traditional either). Over and above that, impressions in social media don’t really mean much, because what we’re trying to achieve is engagement, and results based on that engagement.

On the other and, if you’ve always approached media measurement from an outcome point of view, and that means measuring the outcomes of your campaign, then I think you can apply that same principle to measuring new media. What is most important, in my view, is beginning at the end: figuring out what it is you’re trying to achieve, and then deciding how you’re going to measure it. We have so many tools at our disposal nowadays, using web analytics, tracking URLs, and so on make it easier to at least correlate one’s outputs and outcomes. If you’re going to measure offline activity then, again, you need to be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve and measure the results accordingly.

What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to PR measurement?

That far too many people still consider AVE a sound PR measure, when we all know it’s not. As an industry, we also spend a lot of time talking about it (myself included), and I think we need to start shifting the focus to “real” measurement and stop adding fuel to the fire.

That far too many people still focus on impressions and not outcomes.

That there is still a lot of focus on “big” numbers, e.g., how many fans/followers, etc., one has in social (this is like counting impressions in traditional media). Yes, those numbers can help, but if they’re not actually doing anything for the organization… if they’re not helping to move the needle towards the outcomes one is trying to achieve, then they’re not really much use.

That there are many companies trying to come up with one-size-fits-all solutions, and people need to realize every single solution should be built based on what you’re trying to achieve, and it’s highly unlikely someone else will have a formula that you can bung into your own program.

Do you have any practical tips for communicating PR measurement results to senior management?

Show senior management how PR is supporting business goals, how it’s improving reputation, how it’s building community for the organization, how it’s saving, or making, the organization money. Or when, due to a lack of PR, these things didn’t happen.

One of the things I’ve learned is that we won’t know what’s important to an organization if we don’t ask … and often, it’s not what we think it is. So it’s really important to make sure other departments are as invested in PR as we are. Look at their goals in the strategic plan, sit down with them and ask them what’s important to them (you’ll get a lot more out of them if you talk to them), and show them that you understand their goals. Then, as you embark on your program, establish a communication system that regularly shares how you’re helping them achieve those goals. Simply telling them how many clips, etc., you’ve earned, isn’t going to do much. Correlate your work with theirs.

On a very practical level, I’ve found senior management doesn’t want to see huge clip books and gobs of data. Share it with them in a visual format — charts, graphs, etc. Even if you don’t have a sophisticated measurement program or dashboard, you can create some pretty nifty charts in Excel. But make sure you’re not just communicating PR results, but how those PR results are helping their results. Yes, this means you’ll have to ask them for their data and then tie the two together. But that’s your job, and once they see how you’re helping them, they’ll want to help you more.

What recommendations do you have for people who want to learn more about PR research and evaluation?

The Internet and Google are great! Some of my favorites are bloggers (and presenters) like Katie Paine, Sean Williams, Don Bartholomew and so many of you here at IPR. Chuck Hemann writes an excellent analytics blog, as does Avinash Kaushik (even though his focuses on web analytics, it’s a great way for PR pros to learn about it). Jim Sterne’s book, Social Media Metrics, is fab. I run a bi-weekly Twitter chat called #measurePR (12-1 pm ET, every other Tuesday), and it’s become the go-to hashtag on Twitter to talk about measurement, and our guests are terrific (I archive chat recaps on my blog). I also have a Twitter list of people who write and speak often on measurement, so it’s an easy way to follow some excellent folk on Twitter.

Lastly, I’d say there while there are a ton of conferences that include measurement in their tracks, the ones people should definitely check out are PRSA’s International Conference, IPR’s annual Measurement Summit and, if they can afford it, eMetrics. I speak quite often on the subject (for example, I’ll be speaking at BlogWorld next week on it), and I’m not too bad either!

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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3 Comments

  1. PR and marketing objectives work best when they’re aligned with the client’s corporate objectives, which must surely be the ultimate aim. Too many people decide to ‘do social media’ without really considering what for. For social media to work as part of a client’s overall PR and marketing strategy, it’s important to have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve at the outset. I’ve always found social media to be a great way to gain customer feedback and offer something of value to important customers and brand advocates, usually a reward for their loyalty in the form of discounts, prizes or exclusive/limited edition offers.

  2. Shonali – thanks so much for the inclusion here. I feel honored to be in such company!

    I’d add that the research angle needs to be part of the measurement discussion. Much of what we do simply requires it — we can’t have good objectives without a benchmark, target and timeframe, and performance against objectives is an important measurement credo.

    Research informs strategy — it helps us understand the route we’ll take to our objectives. It doesn’t have to be expensive, or difficult, but is surely must BE.

    Cheers!
    Sean

    P.s., thanks David – nice interview!

  3. David, thanks so much for taking the time – I enjoyed doing this! Here’s to a very successful Measurement Summit this year.

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