Q&A: Is the Future of PR Measurement Already Here?

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In case you weren’t aware, measurement will only grow more important in our industry moving forward.

In case you also weren’t aware, next week will be Measurement Week 2014 in our fair New York City thanks to a PR soiree hosted by Cision/Vocus that will include a slew of marquee names.

Leading up to the event, we spoke to two of the featured speakers to get their takes on the state of measurement: where it is now and where it needs to go.

First up is friend of the site and AirPR chief strategy officer Rebekah Iliff (follow her on Twitter; she’s quite good).

What is the biggest issue currently facing the industry in terms of measurement?

PR measurement currently lacks two things:

1. Industry consensus in terms of which metrics matter.

2. Innovative technologies to automate certain aspects of measurement that both companies and practitioners can agree upon.

Having said that,  I think the biggest issue currently facing the industry is understanding what to measure and sourcing the right technology to support specific business goals related to that measurement. In other words, once you agree to the “what”, you then need to have technology that can track, monitor, and give you insights into data that will help drive effective decision making.

How do we reach that consensus?

The truth is, there can’t be consensus around something that is impossible to achieve. PR metrics must be viewed holistically and there will never be one single metric that can be applied across the board. For some companies it will be traffic to a website or digital property, for others it will be whether or not their key messages were published in an article; while yet others will want to map PR activities directly to sales. Shockingly, sometimes the PR metric is about what people aren’t saying about your brand.

The point? We have to have technology to support these various aspects of PR measurement while at the same time not suffering from tunnel vision by saying “this is the ONE thing that matters.” Once we do that, we have conceded that PR is a one-size fits all discipline. In fact, the truth is, PR’s role (and related measurements) is expanding almost faster than the speed at which startups launch dating apps.

How has social disrupted the measurement system over the past few years?

I think the most important thing social did for PR was give insight into which topics are of interest to specific audience segments. It’s been a proxy for “PR impact”, which didn’t really exist before. Pre-social, the only type of data we had was visitors to a website.

As analytics become more ubiquitous, social is becoming more of a “channel” used to engage with and listen to constituents. While it’s still fundamentally about sharing, it can’t really give clarity to whether or not a business objective has been met — unless, of course, you’re talking about “social selling.”

But with PR, social is a way to understand what messages are resonating, whether or not the subject matter is compelling, etc. From our own data alone, I can tell you that highly shared articles are not necessarily correlated to content that drives customers to make a decision. But those numbers can tell you which messages are “sticky”, and this can often be just as important as lead generation or sales depending on the client’s goals.

What’s the most important new metric to emerge recently?

While any seasoned PR pro will tell you that PR isn’t about sales, every CMO or company founder will need to (somehow) justify their PR spend/budget to a direct report: the CEO, the board, their investors, etc. So at some point, we really need to be able to show how PR efforts affect the bottom line.

Not all efforts are geared toward direct sales, but over time PR should align with the overall success of a business; this assumes other aspects of the business are functioning properly and that the products/services are viable.

Disclaimer: PR can’t put lipstick on a pig, and it’s not some sort of silver-bullet-magic-trick.

Which common metrics do you think we need to downplay or discard completely?