Peter Himler on The Future of Measurement

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In case you missed it, the newly united Cision/Vocus is hosting a big event in New York next week to discuss the topic that won’t go away: measurement.

Earlier this week we asked friend of the site Rebekah Iliff, CSO at AirPR, for her opinions on the future of the practice.

Today we have another take on the same topic from veteran Peter Himler: blogger, influencer, industry veteran, Balthazar fan and founder of Flatiron Communications.

What is the main measurement-related issue that firms need to resolve with clients?

The fact that many clients continue to measure their agencies’ success via media impressions, ad equivalencies and number of Facebook likes — not on PR-driven business outcomes.

Secondly, the cost for sophisticated data analytics that directly correlate our efforts with business results may still be prohibitive for smaller and even mid-sized firms.  Not every company is a P&G or a Nestle.

Will we reach a consensus on most valuable metrics?

No, but there are efforts underway to more effectively measure audience engagement, as well as how that engagement leads to increased sales, stock prices, regulatory or legislative changes, etc.

How do you see social fitting into the measurement equation?

When a company has a large following on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, G+, Pinterest…it’s simply easier to share its content without relying on the benevolence of a journalist to tell its story or a paid wire service to distribute info.

However, those who view the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers as something other than a means to an end are fooling themselves. Yes, building a positive branded presence in news and social media remains a primary goal for most companies. That presence, however, still needs to be shown to accrue to the bottom line.

What’s the single most important metric?

I have to agree with social media strategist Kim Garst, who recently said, “If you’re only going to track one metric when it comes to using social media for your business, it should be engagement. Tracking page likes and followers is important too, but if your fans aren’t interacting with you, what’s the point?”

The question then becomes “What are the best ways to measure engagement?”: retweets, likes and content-sharing? Then, how does that engagement translate to sales, reputation, stock price, etc.

Also: one can’t discount the importance of individual influencers. One favorable tweet from Beyonce can go a long way!

What sort of tactics/tools do we need to abandon?

As much as it hurts me to say this, the heyday of offline media coverage has passed.

Print newspaper and magazine coverage no longer reign in catalyzing conversations, except perhaps for the framed story reprint hanging in one’s office. I remember when we used to calculate print media pass-along copies to demonstrate reach and value to our clients.

The truth is: today, people get their news nowadays via their digital devices. Local and network television news broadcasts continue to exert influence, but their days may also be numbered because few people are making appointments to watch TV news and even fewer are time-shifting it.

That said, some (like Jon Stewart and John Oliver) are ascendant when it comes to influence in that medium, as are the video platforms on which their content is most viewed, shared, and embedded.

How do we convey the new reality of measurement to clients?

I would bet that most companies still use impressions and ad equivalences as determinants of PR success. Even those that recognize the need to demonstrate true ROI often cannot afford sophisticated data analytics or A/B testing of messages to show value.

In the middle, I suppose, we have the vendors who offer clients a dashboard with fancy graphics showing real-time analytics of what’s being said about the company across multiple media channels — social and traditional. Right now, though, I don’t see those firms taking it beyond an accounting of the quantity and quality of the messages.

Will these changes finally allow PR and advertising to work more effectively together?

For years, advertising (and direct marketing for that matter) had it over the PR industry in terms of taking a quantitative approach to measuring their output. It wasn’t enough that the TV spot aired on GMA: it had to create buzz that led to sales.

In PR, that GMA segment was often the end result (even though it invariably had more action-producing clout than a TV commercial). Todays CMOs, however, are beholden to their CFOs — and both are demanding that we show them the money.

The PR industry has lagged behind ad agencies in this regard, but are quickly playing catch-up. Many of the industry’s larger agencies can now go toe-to-toe with ad shops in terms of measuring ROI.

Do we agree with Himler? Will future measurement tools more effectively tie engagement to our clients’ bottom lines?