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PR Not Measuring Up

Last weeks’ Holmes’ Report covered its recent survey of more than 100 PR Agency principles – the
results of which point to some of the problems that continue to make research  and evaluation a major issue for the industry.

"In general, their responses  suggested that an failure of commitment- rather than the absence of necessary tools and techniques—is behind the industry’s poor performance."

Damn right. Never have we  had more tools. And more arrive every week. The barrier however remains a lack  of commitment at the top. Too many organizations I talk to are only looking to measure where Executives demand it. It’s not viewed as a key ingredient in strategic planning and establishing a proactive dialog with the business. As a  result, it’s not resourced or budgeted for.

Look at any of the best-in-class measurement efforts – like those at Southwest airlines – and you’ll see the reverse in action: a commitment from the most senior levels of the company to measuring not just to validate spend, but to drive business strategy; dedicated resources; and they’ve put their money where there mouth is (and this is one very, very, very budget sensitive organization).

According to the study, Agency leaders believe the biggest obstacle to effective measurement is the unwillingness of clients to pay additional fees for evaluation Why not just mandate it as part of any budget? If you aren’t clear on the outcomes, and can’t measure your effectiveness in achieving those outcomes, why work for the client? Holmes gets this:

“At the very least, that suggests the need for a broader dialogue between agencies and their clients about the importance of research. But it might also require a change in attitude on the part of agency leaders, who need to realize that investing in measurement is the only way to guarantee that clients value the services agencies provide and commit to PR spending in good times and bad.”

I just don’t understand how any PR department or practitioner can operate without a measurement program in place. Measurement isn’t monitoring. Monitoring isn’t measurement. What I am talking about here is a deep understanding of how communications impacts business outcomes. An understanding based on research not just of what occurred in the media, but also in the minds of your customers. Without that you shouldn’t expect resources, budget, even a job.

5 Responses

  1. By Ed O’Meara on December 19th, 2005 at 7:19 am

    It is ridiculous that any Agency head could suggest The Client is at fault (e.g., they won’t pay extra). Likely those are the same agency heads that still impose line item charges for “facsimile” and “photostat” services.

    Clients shouldn’t pay extra for measurement – they should expect it. Agency heads that want to build their businesses should, at least, give clients a taste for free. But this might require them to rethink their business model around value and not headcount.

    Come on in folks, the water is fine…

  2. By Robert French on December 19th, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    I agree with you – and Ed’s comment, too.

    Of all the failings of firms, it is the initial research, ongoing evaluation and measurement that seem to be the ones (along with transparency and honesty) that should be a ‘given’ rather than an ‘add-on’ to client services.

    Clients should demand upfront research and follow-through evaluation, since the expectation of it is so infrequently (IMO) provided.

  3. By Mark Dill on December 20th, 2005 at 2:20 pm

    You’re such a purist, Andy. Absolutely measurment is an indispensible component of a plan — you can’t manage what you can’t measure, right? But I know we’ve both been at at least one place (I’ve been to several) where the Comms job is to do what you’re told, even if it’s stupid. Too frequently, the senior leadership of the communication function does not stand up for the profession and thinks that telling the CEO what he wants to hear is the path to success, or at least survival. The result is that there is never any strategy (strategies only exist if they are actually used)and it all devolves to an execution of tactics, many of which are pointless, some counterproductive. There is no point to measurment in those situations. The call to arms here has to be that the first thing a communication executive has to do is demand respect for the profession. PS — I’m not as cynical as I sound, but I am in a provocative mood. Happy Holidays.

  4. By KDPaine on December 23rd, 2005 at 3:23 am

    Right on Andy! couldn’t agree with you more.. And what I find most interesting is that the companies that consistently outperform their competitors, like Southwest are typically the ones that take measurement seriously. What I do find encouraging is that in the last six months we’ve talked to more agenices, government agenencies and non-profits than we thought posssible, all of whom are embracing measurement as a key part of their efforts. When the rest of corporate America will follow suit is anyone’s guess.

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