I’ve been on the front lines of PR measurement for over 10 years in my role at General Motors. In that time, I’ve sat through more vendor pitches than I care to remember and watched many squirm uncomfortably as I poked at the black box that is their particular proprietary methodology.
To make matters worse, everyone has their own definitions for what you would think would be common terms so you truly have to poke and prod to make certain that you know what each vendor’s system is actually measuring . As an example of the lack of clarity in definition, I was in a meeting the other day with some very smart folks and there was discussion of the definition for impressions. You had some equating it to circulation, others were trying to add on factors like where it was in the publication, others were calling it opportunity to see (which I know from experience also has several definitions of its own), and it went on from there.
As technology continues to evolve, the measurement world keeps changing. New companies come in and others go out. Mergers and acquisitions happen constantly. New communication formats like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. are introduced.
With all that in mind, here’s a very basic reason why having measurement standards in place is important. Companies work with different research firms and PR agencies depending upon their needs. If we have standard definitions across the PR world, you can then compare measures from an event with Agency A to an event with Agency B to understand what tactics worked, what didn’t and how you might change/improve those events the next time. If the measurement systems don’t match, it is much harder, and often nearly impossible, to assess how the events compare.
I understand that there are almost as many different measurement systems as there are stars in the sky. In the PR measurement world, you have firms that specialize in measurement, research departments at PR agencies, corporate types who have developed their own DIY method of measurement, and the college professors who are trying to teach the next generation of PR practitioners the importance of research within the context of strategy. A lot of time, money and effort have been spent on developing the proprietary tools and measurement processes currently in use so there is reluctance to change. However, even within the proprietary systems, I believe there is room to standardize the basic measures. The value will then come from how you utilize the measures to move strategy forward rather than debating the pros/cons and definitions of your particular measures. The more we can remove debate about measurement process and instead focus on strategy, the faster we all win.
Jackie Matthews leads Communications Research and Measurement for General Motors at its headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. She is an elected member of the IPR Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation and will be inducted into PR News’ Measurement Hall of Fame at its measurement conference in April, 2012.