Finding Meaning in Measurement


March 2014

Big data, social media ROI, Barcelona Principles. Some of the buzziest words in PR all have one thing in common: they're all about measurement. Measurement has been in the collective PR consciousness for decades now, but the digital age has given us many more tools, metrics, and things to measure. With more ways to gather and analyze data than ever before, measurement is both easier and far more complex, but it remains one of the most crucial aspects to honing your message and continuing to grow your brand.

The starting point for any successful measurement strategy is to understand how your company makes and spends money. Once you have that understanding, you have a greater capacity to set goals and recognize the different areas your PR efforts can impact before you even set a goal.


Whether framing the conversation with your C-suite or establishing benchmarks, employing tools like the Barcelona Principles, the Sources and Methods Transparency Table, and the Balanced Scorecard can be an effective approach, especially when you integrate all three. It’s important to keep in mind that these are all tools to help you hone your measurement process, not strategies or tactics for actual measurement.

The Barcelona Principles provide an excellent starting point. Number one on the list of principles is, of course, to set measurable goals. For example, a measurable goal is not “Increase engagement.” A measurable goal is “Increase customer satisfaction by X amount,” where X is measured by customer service index benchmarks for your organization. The only way to determine progress is to know where you’re starting from and what your goal is.

The Barcelona Principles also stipulate that both quantity and quality be measured, as a simple number of, say, impressions, doesn’t account for the tone of the article, source credibility, or the media outlet. This suggestion fits in nicely with the Sources and Methods Transparency Table, which makes clear the channels and content analyzed, the metrics taken into account, and how all that information was gathered. This table is an excellent tool that complements an overall methodology statement of how data is gathered and analyzed. A stable, transparent methodology increases understanding of data and how it can be affected and better defined.

Transparency is important because unless you know how information is gathered, there’s no way to interpret what you’re seeing or know what you’re not seeing. Transparency also lets you know if there’s a component missing in your analysis, and if you know a gap exists, prepare a narrative for your stakeholders to enhance their understanding. For example, were you to look at the impressions for a content farm site, you may see exorbitantly high numbers of impressions. But if you know that that’s an overall, cumulative number, you know that’s not the whole story, and were you to look at individual page impressions, you may find the numbers (if available) have more integrity.

It’s important to measure outcomes, not outputs. Instead of measuring quantitative metrics for your organization, consider measuring qualitative metrics of your outcomes. This can include shifts in awareness and purchase behavior, reputation, or employee satisfaction. Organizations that measure outcomes can show a correlation between their goals and their results, but don’t cherry-pick metrics; get a holistic view of the situation so that you discover all points of correlation.

Why outcomes, not outputs? Let’s say an organization, with the goal of increasing sales by X percent, gets tons of media coverage, but there’s no change in purchase behavior. If the organization measures just the media mentions, their campaign deceptively looks successful. If they measure the outcomes, they’ll see that in actuality, their campaign didn’t achieve the intended goal. This is a simplified example, but often mistakes in analysis come from measuring the wrong metrics.

Measurement will get you the most complete, actionable results if it’s balanced for all areas of your organization. The Balanced Scorecard provides a practical approach to balancing metrics for a number of aspects in the organization. Which and how many areas your organization addresses will vary depending on its goals, but common areas include the perspectives of finance, customer experience, internal business, innovation, and learning.

The Balanced Scorecard is relevant when it helps you to look at the big picture and not just one or two perspectives. It can also be an effective visual tool for conveying the value of public relations. In many cases it demonstrates the value of a holistic goal and highlights quantitative measures against goals and progress, allowing PR pros to convey the value of public relations as it relates to all or other aspects of the business.
There can be separate, defined department goals, which can be driven by counts and amounts. As you work up the ladder, those tactics should support the organization’s overall corporate objectives. If the marketing department is looking to increase social media engagement by X amount on Y platforms, that’s the department’s goal. That should tie into the organization’s overall objective of growing the brand’s image and customer loyalty.

Applying this balanced, multi-faceted approach to PR campaigns can only be helpful; if PR and marketing pros know exactly how their efforts have impacted financials or customer experience, they can continue improving or refining campaigns accordingly. This may go counter to the culture at some organizations where silos are present or financial data is shared sparingly. Opening, cultivating, and continuing a dialogue to obtain value metrics can only help to improve the value of PR to the organization as a whole.


So you know the metrics for which you’re measuring — what to do with all that data? Many discussions naturally progress to big data at this point.  Big data can be a powerful thing, but just as you need to know for what you are measuring, you need to know how your organization defines big data. Forbes defines big data as “a collection of data from traditional and digital sources inside and outside your company that represents a source for ongoing discovery and analysis.”

In essence, big data is measurement, but it’s big — and small — measurement. It includes web behavior and social network interactions as well as product transaction data, financial records, and interaction channels like call centers and points-of-sale. With all that data from practically every transaction available to us, certainly big data can only enhance each organization’s analysis efforts.

Until you have become a master of your small data, you might want to hold your big data horses. In order to fully leverage the benefits of big data, an organization must have a thorough grasp on not only how it acquires and harnesses its smaller data, but it must already prioritize fact-based decision making and have instituted a culture that prizes such decision making. Investing in big data will not magically perfect your measurement capabilities; an article in Harvard Business Review notes that many companies have installed digital tools they have yet to fully leverage.

Big data is made up of many incremental metrics and measures, and until an organization understands how to leverage those incremental metrics, it won’t be possible to focus on big picture implications and effects. In their study, HBR found that big data is not a mathematical or analytical issue, it’s a cultural one, and until an organization has adequately (re)defined their processes, big data will not provide much of a leg up. Don’t get entangled in analysis paralysis, in which the plethora of information is so overwhelming you don’t know what to do with all that data. Uncover the right metrics for your organization and then make them available and actionable. Investing in any data before you’re goal oriented can lead to more confusion, wasted money, and low-yield results.

Every organization has its own data, so it’s crucial to understand what internal data is available at your organization, how it’s tracked, and how you can affect that data. When an issue relevant to your organization or your campaign arises in the media, knowledge of your data and its patterns can help you predict when and whether there might be a spike or lull in customer service calls, and can indicate how effective your methods were in spreading your organization’s message.

That’s one of the biggest boons to consistent analysis and a varied analysis toolbox: the right data and its real-time implications integrates external public relations into overall organizational goals and broadens the impact of your PR efforts.

About BurrellesLuce

BurrellesLuce is the U.S. leader in media monitoring. Professionals in a wide range of industries rely on our comprehensive curated content from local and national print, online, broadcast, and social media sources. BurrellesLuce has a turnkey copyright compliance program that allows us to provide copyright-compliant, behind-the-paywall content not available to other services. BurrellesLuce combines grade-A content with easy-to-use software, allowing users to evaluate and analyze their media coverage and PR efforts. It's all integrated into our user-friendly interface, BurrellesLuce WorkFlow™.

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