How To Measure Public Relations

Why you should use questionnaires and interviews more.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

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: Fits well into corporate hierarchies.
Primary weakness: Misrepresents 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.

Why I Prefer the Behavioural Methodology

Here’s what I think about measuring PR:

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

I Love PR – Mug in Snow – Doctor Spin – The PR Blog 3
I love PR.

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. The rhetorical approach is characterised by an absence of moral judgement and is by nature utilitarian.

Notable mentions: 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

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 alike, 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.

Man drowning in money, visual art, highly detailed - How To Measure Public Relations
Money can make you blind to what truly matters (art created by AI).

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.

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.

“What gets measured, gets done.”
— Peter Drucker

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

How To Measure Attitudes and Behaviours

How To Measure Attitudes

How do you measure attitudes? There are a few things to think about to get your measurement right. 1The Handbook of Research for Communication and Technology, 34.5 Measuring Attitudes.

An attitude measurement should meet the following criteria:

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

There are four main types of measuring approaches:

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

There are four main types of measuring 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.

Read also: How To Measure Public Relations

Read also: Public Relations Objectives for Organisations

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

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:

1 The Handbook of Research for Communication and Technology, 34.5 Measuring Attitudes.
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.



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