How To Measure Public Relations

Why you should use questionnaires and interviews more.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How to meas­ure pub­lic relations?

During a sem­in­ar on meas­ur­ing PR activ­it­ies in social media, an audi­ence mem­ber asked:

Is it pos­sible to meas­ure relationships?

Here, we get into a chal­len­ging ter­rit­ory, and I will demon­strate why atti­tude meas­ure­ments are super­i­or to oth­er types of meas­ure­ments in PR.

Here we go:

Measure Public Relations: Three Methodologies

There are three basic approaches to meas­ur­ing pub­lic relations:

  • The tra­di­tion­al methodology
  • The busi­ness methodology
  • The beha­vi­our­al methodology

The Traditional Methodology

The tra­di­tion­al meas­ure­ment meth­od­o­logy is based on mar­ket­ing logic. Marketing meth­ods focus on media chan­nels, demo­graph­ic reach, and ad costs.

Examples of PR measurements:

  • Reach approx­im­a­tions
  • AVE (ad value equivalence)

Primary strength: Easy to cal­cu­late.
Primary weak­ness: Low qual­ity for decision-making.

The Business Methodology

The busi­ness meas­ure­ment meth­od­o­logy is based on cor­por­ate pro­cesses. Corporate meth­ods are focused on man­age­ment the­ory and rev­en­ue. (Closely related to the Excellence PR Approach.)

Examples of PR measurements:

  • ROI (return on investment)
  • KPI (key per­form­ance indicator)

Primary strength: Fit well into cor­por­ate hier­arch­ies.
Primary weak­ness: Misrepresent the value of PR.

The Behavioural Methodology

The beha­vi­our­al meas­ure­ment meth­od­o­logy is based on psy­cho­logy. Behavioural meth­ods are focused on atti­tudes and behaviours.

Examples of PR measurements:

  • Attitude meas­ure­ments
  • Behaviour meas­ure­ments

Primary strength: High use­ful­ness for PR.
Primary weak­ness: Not precise.

My Preference: The Rhetorical Approach

Long-time read­ers of this blog will know that I favour the rhet­or­ic­al approach to PR:

Three Approaches to Public Relations - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Three approaches to pub­lic relations.

Fundamental Approaches To PR

There are three schol­arly approaches to PR:

  • The Excellence Approach
  • The Rhetorical Approach
  • The Critical Approach

The Excellence Approach. A busi­ness-ori­ented approach focused on object­ives and cor­por­ate value cre­ation. The under­ly­ing motiv­a­tion behind the the­ory was that PR was mostly a vari­ety of tac­tic­al tools that des­per­ately needed a man­age­ment the­ory to work well in a soph­ist­ic­ated organisation.

Notable men­tions: James E. Grunig, Larissa A. Grunig

The Rhetorical Approach. A clas­sic­al approach that stems from ideas dat­ing back to ancient Greece. It’s a psy­cho­lo­gic­al the­ory of how com­mu­nic­a­tion struc­tures human cul­ture by shap­ing human minds. An absence of mor­al judg­ment char­ac­ter­ises the rhet­or­ic­al approach and is utilitarian.

Notable men­tions: Edward Bernays, The Toronto School of Communication Theory, Robert Heath

The Critical Approach. A crit­ic­al approach deeply rooted in the­or­ies around soci­et­al power dynam­ics. Power is seen as a means to exert dom­in­ance, manip­u­la­tion, and oppres­sion. The crit­ic­al approach bor­rows many ideas from the rhet­or­ic­al approach by pla­cing them in mor­al frameworks.

Notable men­tions: Walter Lippmann, Noam Chomsky

Read also: 3 PR Approaches: Excellence, Rhetorical, and Critical

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

When it comes to PR in gen­er­al, I will typ­ic­ally “sac­ri­fice” cor­por­ate use­ful­ness (the excel­lence approach) to gain real-world use­ful­ness the rhet­or­ic­al approach).

On how to meas­ure pub­lic rela­tions, my think­ing is no different:

I prefer beha­vi­our­al meth­od­o­lo­gies because they’re most help­ful in pro­du­cing tan­gible PR res­ults. They are less com­par­able with­in cor­por­ate struc­tures, but no meth­od is perfect.

The Close Relationship Argument

Not everything that counts can be coun­ted. And not everything that can be coun­ted, counts.”
— Albert Einstein

In the rhet­or­ic­al approach, PR is all about rela­tion­ships. And I tend to agree whole­heartedly with that sentiment.

And in life, some rela­tion­ships are more import­ant than oth­ers. My most import­ant and closest rela­tion­ships are those with my wife and son. Those are my most valu­able relationships.

What if I wanted to meas­ure those relationships?

I could meas­ure vari­ous met­rics, from my wife’s salary to my son’s grades. But my wife could make good money, and my son could do well in school des­pite hav­ing an awful rela­tion­ship with me.

What’s the best way for me to gauge my closest rela­tion­ships? For res­ults that mat­ter and are help­ful, by enga­ging in open and con­tinu­ous con­ver­sa­tion and codi­fy­ing out­comes. So, in my view, com­mu­nic­a­tion is the best way to meas­ure relationships.

Most rela­tion­ships aren’t that close, but they’re still rela­tion­ships that shape atti­tudes and behaviours.

Money, Money, Money

Most com­pan­ies are man­aged via one single prin­ciple—money.

Money defines their suc­cess.
Money dic­tates their gov­ernance.
Money func­tions as their prime motivator. 

We all care about money, busi­nesses and people, but that’s not how we form trust and deep relationships.

Money is a great cent­ral value for nearly everything except for one thing: rela­tion­ships with oth­er humans.

Only meas­ur­ing pub­lic rela­tions by how to squeeze more money out of every rela­tion­ship means treat­ing your pub­lics like wal­lets with legs. And that would be a shame because human beings have so much more to give oth­er than just their money.

  • In the eyes of advert­isers, we are stripped of our essence, mere pup­pets of con­sump­tion with wal­lets in place of hearts.

Some argue that money is how everything in an organ­isa­tion gets meas­ured, so the PR func­tion must con­form. I take the oppos­ite view: If so, at least one func­tion should focus on the human aspect.

Read also: Why ROI and PR Mix Like Oil and Water

How To Measure Attitudes and Behaviours

How to Measure Public Relations - Doctor Spin
How to meas­ure pub­lic relations.

How To Measure Attitudes in PR

How do you meas­ure atti­tudes? There are a few things to think about to get your meas­ure­ment right. 1Educational Communications and Technology. (2001, August 3). 34.5 Measuring Attitudes. The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. … Continue read­ing

An atti­tude meas­ure­ment should meet the fol­low­ing criteria:

  • Valid
  • Reliable
  • Simple to Administer, Explain, and Understand
  • Replicable

There are four main types of atti­tude meas­ure­ment approaches:

  • Self-Reporting
  • Reports of Others
  • Internal Reporting (Sociometric Reporting)
  • Records

There are four main types of atti­tude meas­ure­ment methods:

  • Questionnaires and Rating Scales
  • Interviews
  • Reports (Logs, Journals, Diaries etc.)
  • Observations

I’m a big fan of using ques­tion­naires and stand­ard­ised inter­views for PR measurements:

Validity. Attitudes are psy­cho­lo­gic­al, so I strive to cla­ri­fy what I want to meas­ure, noth­ing more, noth­ing less. And I nev­er add any unne­ces­sary complexity.

Reliability. People exper­i­ence the world dif­fer­ently. But even if atti­tude meas­ure­ments aren’t exact, their use­ful­ness for PR more than makes up for it.

Learn more: How To Measure Public Relations

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

Read also: Public Relations Objectives for Organisations

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: The Golden Rule of Measuring PR

The Golden Rule of Measuring PR

Your choice of KPIs (key per­form­ance indic­at­ors) for PR will impact your organ­isa­tion more than the actu­al meas­ure­ment res­ults ever will.

If an organ­isa­tion focuses on the wrong met­rics, it might estab­lish, main­tain, or devel­op the wrong long-term rela­tion­ships. 2The insight is based on 18+ years of prac­tic­al con­sult­ing exper­i­ence.

What gets meas­ured, gets done.”
— Peter Drucker

Learn more: The Golden Rule of Measuring PR

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

PR Resource: Barcelona Principles 3.0

Barcelona Principles 3.0

The PR industry has united around a series of prin­ciples for meas­ur­ing com­mu­nic­a­tions. The latest iter­a­tion comes from AMEC, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication.

1. Setting goals is an abso­lute pre­requis­ite to com­mu­nic­a­tions plan­ning, meas­ure­ment, and eval­u­ation—The found­ing prin­ciple of SMART (spe­cif­ic, meas­ur­able, action­able, rel­ev­ant, and time-bound) goals as a found­a­tion for com­mu­nic­a­tions plan­ning has been pro­moted to an essen­tial pre­requis­ite. It pushes meas­ure­ment and eval­u­ation as a core com­pon­ent of the plan­ning pro­cess, artic­u­lat­ing tar­get out­comes and how pro­gress towards these will be assessed.

2. Measurement and eval­u­ation should identi­fy out­puts, out­comes, and poten­tial impact—Previously, the Principles recom­men­ded meas­ur­ing out­comes, rather than simply count­ing out­puts. The updated prin­ciples extend this to con­sider longer term impact of com­mu­nic­a­tions strategy. According to Levine, this means think­ing about “the chan­nels we are impact­ing, and change we would like to see through cam­paigns, events and activ­a­tions.”

3. Outcomes and impact should be iden­ti­fied for stake­hold­ers, soci­ety, and the organ­isa­tion—From the ori­gin­al focus on busi­ness met­rics, such as sales and rev­en­ue, the 2020 update embraces a more hol­ist­ic view of per­form­ance. It allows the mod­el to be more inclus­ive of a broad­er range of organ­isa­tions and com­mu­nic­a­tions roles that are not neces­sar­ily profit-driv­en.

4. Communication meas­ure­ment and eval­u­ation should include both qual­it­at­ive and quant­it­at­ive ana­lys­is—“To under­stand the full impact of your work, it is cru­cial that you use the full suite of meth­ods to meas­ure those out­comes,” sum­mar­ised Levine in describ­ing the evol­u­tion of this prin­ciple to not just quanti­fy but also under­stand how mes­sages are being received, believed and inter­preted.

5. AVEs are not the value of com­mu­nic­a­tion—The mes­sage remains con­sist­ent and clear; “we con­tin­ue to believe that AVEs do not demon­strate the value of our work.” It is import­ant that com­mu­nic­a­tions meas­ure­ment and eval­u­ation employs a rich­er, more nuanced, and multi-faceted approach to under­stand the impact of com­mu­nic­a­tions.

6. Holistic com­mu­nic­a­tion meas­ure­ment and eval­u­ation includes all rel­ev­ant online and off­line chan­nels—Our found­ing prin­ciple that social media can and should be meas­ured is so obvi­ous today. The 2020 iter­a­tion reflects the game-chan­ging shift in social com­mu­nic­a­tions’ cap­ab­il­it­ies, oppor­tun­it­ies, and influ­ence, such that all rel­ev­ant online and off­line chan­nels should be meas­ured and eval­u­ated equally. The AMEC meas­ure­ment frame­work pro­motes clar­ity across earned, owned, shared, and paid chan­nels to ensure con­sist­ency in approach towards a com­mon goal.

7. Communication meas­ure­ment and eval­u­ation are rooted in integ­rity and trans­par­ency to drive learn­ing and insights—Sound, con­sist­ent, and sus­tained meas­ure­ment calls for integ­rity and trans­par­ency in recog­ni­tion of today’s atten­tion to data pri­vacy and stew­ard­ship as organ­isa­tions com­ply with new reg­u­la­tions, such as GDPR. This is also a state­ment that meas­ure­ment isn’t simply about data col­lec­tion and track­ing, but about learn­ing from eval­u­ation and apply­ing insight back into com­mu­nic­a­tions plan­ning. It recog­nises the need to be trans­par­ent about the con­text in which pro­grammes are run and being aware of any bias that may exist in the tools, meth­od­o­lo­gies and inter­pret­a­tions applied.

Download the Barcelona Principles 3.0 Presentation here

Read also: How To Measure Public Relations

💡 Subscribe and get a free ebook on how to get bet­ter PR ideas.

1 Educational Communications and Technology. (2001, August 3). 34.5 Measuring Attitudes. The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. https://​mem​bers​.aect​.org/​e​d​t​e​c​h​/​e​d​1​/​3​4​/34 – 05.html
2 The insight is based on 18+ years of prac­tic­al con­sult­ing experience.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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