Research budgets are up, organizations increasingly evaluate outcomes instead of outputs, and the way companies measure PR is related to indicators of success. These are just some of the powerful insights about what appears to be a transformation of PR measurement and evaluation provided by USC Annenberg’s Generally Accepted Practices (GAP) for Public Relations study. In its seventh iteration this year, GAP VII is the largest and most comprehensive study to date of senior-level PR/communication practitioners in the United States. It was conducted with IPR as research partner and in cooperation with PRSA, IABC and the Arthur Page Society, and the results are available for free download.
As a top-level finding in GAP VII, budgets allocated to measurement and evaluation by corporate PR departments have increased substantially, from 4% reported in 2009 to 9% in 2011. This could be an indication that PR is viewed as more strategic, and that programs are being evaluated on actual results. It could further indicate increased use of digital measurement engines, which weren’t as prevalent only two years ago.
We also delved deep into the research methods and tools used by corporations, and have identified four clusters indicating distinct categories of measurement typically adopted:
- PR Outputs defined by traditional measures such as advertising equivalency, content analysis, number of clips and total impressions;
- Stakeholder Outcomes with measures such as influence on corporate culture, reputation, employee attitudes, stakeholder awareness and impact on crisis mitigation;
- Strategic Outcomes with metrics for digital/social media, primary research – both pre- and post-campaign;
- Bottom-line Impact, such as contribution to market share and sales as well as influence on stock performance.
We then looked at how these different clusters of measurement are related to indicators of success, such as PR’s perceived contribution to sales and stock valuation and how it is regarded by senior management. Notably, the outcome measures (strategic, stakeholder and bottom line) are linked to these indicators of success, while more traditional PR output measures are not. Further, the number of organizations measuring strategic outcomes has increased.
Clips and impressions, the hallmarks of traditional, or “old-school,” measurement came in at the very bottom of our respondents’ top ten list of research and evaluation tools, and even content analysis of clips has declined markedly in use. As indicated, these pronounced changes likely speak to the improved ability to measure web content via social media monitoring tools, and may also signify a more strategic view and use of public relations on a larger scale than before.
In addition to these findings, GAP VII also offers insight into all aspects central to managing the PR/communication function. Key findings include:
PR/COM has its seat at the table: In nearly 60% of responding companies, PR/COM reports directly to the “C-Suite” (chairman, CEO, COO, etc.), reflecting today’s increasingly transparent, communication-intensive environment.
Social media has become mainstream: Seventy percent of PR/Comm departments report budgetary responsibility for social media monitoring and 66% for social media participation. This reflects a 17% and 13% growth, respectively, over two years ago.
Prevalence of social media tools has increased: The most widely used social media tools by corporations are social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, which is used by 53% of public companies), micro blogging (i.e. Twitter, also used by 53% of public companies), Search Engine Optimization (52%), and sharing and producing online videos. Meanwhile, the use of wikis and virtual worlds has become nearly extinct.
The field is expanding to include new functions: In addition to growth in social media, the PR/COM field is experiencing growth in the areas of Internal Communication (up from 47% to 58% of respondents having such responsibility over the last two years) and Customer Relations (up from 6% to 15%).
Marketing/product PR is in a state of decline: While still a “core” function with 51% of corporate respondents having budgetary responsibility for it (versus 61% in 2009), there has been a substantial decrease in the emphasis on traditional Marketing/Product PR.
Agency-of-record relationships are vanishing: Over the last ten years, the use by client organizations of a single outside PR agency of record has consistently decreased. In 2002, more than 50% of public corporations reported an AOR relationship. This number decreased continuously and has now shrunk to just over 15% for public companies.
Burghardt Tenderich is an Associate Professor at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the Associate Director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center.
Jerry Swerling is Professor and Director of Public Relations Studies at USC. Jerry is the Director of the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center and is a Public Relations Management Consultant.