Measuring communications is a critical task in PR.
Today, the widespread focus on output and results often makes us forget about our strategic choices in what to measure.
The golden rule of measuring communications is that the choice of metrics has a more significant impact than whatever actions are taken on the measurement’s output.
This golden rule suggests that by choosing the right metrics, PR professionals can align their goals and objectives with the organisation and shape their perception of what is essential.
Here we go:
Creating Impact With Designed Intent
Public relations (PR) is all about establishing, developing, or maintaining strategically essential relationships with publics.
It is the art of communicating with stakeholders, such as customers, employees, investors, media, and the public, to build and maintain a good relationship. PR professionals use various strategies and tactics to manage the flow of information between an organisation and its stakeholders, with the ultimate goal of creating a positive perception of the organisation and its products or services.
How To Define Public Relations
Someone once tried to count the number of actual definitions of public relations, but they allegedly gave up after finding over 2,000+ different versions.
Amongst so many definitions of public relations, here’s the definition that I find to be most useful.
Public Relations (PR) = the strategic and tactical use of communication to develop and maintain productive relationships with stakeholders, influencers, and publics.
Stakeholders in PR = incentivised representatives with various interests in the organisation.
Influencers in PR = independent gatekeepers with audiences of importance to the organisation.
Publics in PR = situational groups with similar communicative behaviours affecting the organisation.
Learn more: How To Define Public Relations
However, measuring the success of public relations is a complex task. It is not just about counting the number of media mentions or the amount of traffic generated to a website. While these metrics are essential, they only tell part of the story.
The fundamental PR challenge for communication measurement activities is to impact the organisation with the designed intent.
What Gets Measured Gets Done
The saying “what gets measured gets done” is a well-known concept in business. It implies that an organisation must measure its progress toward that goal if it wants to achieve something.
By measuring progress, the organisation can identify areas that need improvement and take action to address them. This is also true for public relations.
If an organisation wants to improve its reputation or build stronger relationships with its stakeholders, influencers, and publics, it must make more conscious decisions about what to measure.
The focus on measuring output is often misplaced. Many PR professionals are too focused on the number of media mentions or social media shares. While these metrics are essential, they only tell part of the story.
The Golden Rule of Measuring Communications
In the long-term, what you decide to measure in strategic communications (PR) will impact your organisation more than any actions taken due to any measurement output.
If an organisation focuses on the wrong metrics, it might establish, maintain, or develop the wrong long-term relationships. 1The insight is based on 18+ years of practical consulting experience.
Learn more: The Golden Rule of Measuring Communications
Choosing What to Measure is a Strategic Choice
Choosing what to measure in public relations is a highly strategic choice. It informs the organisation of what is essential and what should be prioritised.
For example, if an organisation decides to measure the number of media mentions, it signals that media coverage is crucial in building its reputation. On the other hand, if an organisation decides to measure its social media followers’ engagement, it signals that social media is an important channel for communication with stakeholders.
Choosing what to measure has a more significant impact on the organisation than the output of the chosen measurement. It sets the tone for the entire PR strategy and shapes the organisation’s perception of what is essential.
This line of thinking bears the hallmark of Marshall McLuhan’s point that “the medium is the message,” meaning that a medium’s format will profoundly impact the audience more long-term than any single message. 2The medium is the message. (2023, February 25). In Wikipedia. The medium is the message. (2023, February 25). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message
The Importance of Being Proactive
Instead of reacting to the output of measurements, PR professionals must be proactive and focus on what happens before actual measurements occur. This means setting clear goals and objectives for PR activities and developing a strategy to achieve them.
For example, suppose the goal of a PR campaign is to increase brand awareness. In that case, the PR team may measure the number of media mentions, social media engagement, website traffic, and search engine rankings.
However, if the goal is to improve customer satisfaction, the team may choose to measure customer feedback, social media sentiment, and customer retention rates.
By being proactive, PR professionals can also identify potential issues or risks and develop a crisis communication plan to mitigate any negative impact. This involves monitoring and analysing conversations about the organisation on social media and other channels, identifying potential issues, and developing a plan to address them before they escalate.
In conclusion, measuring the success of public relations is not just about counting media mentions or website traffic. It is about choosing the right metrics that align with the organisation’s goals and objectives and being proactive in developing a strategy to achieve them.
Choosing what to measure is a highly strategic choice that shapes the organisation’s perception of what is essential and sets the tone for the entire PR strategy. By being proactive, PR professionals can not only measure the impact of PR on the overall business goals and objectives but also mitigate any potential issues or risks before they escalate.
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PR Resource: How To Measure Attitudes
How To Measure Attitudes
How do you measure attitudes? There are a few things to think about to get your measurement right. 3The Handbook of Research for Communication and Technology, 34.5 Measuring Attitudes. In AECT.
An attitude measurement should meet the following criteria:
There are four main types of measuring approaches:
There are four main types of measuring methods:
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
PR Resource: Fundamental Approaches to PR
Fundamental Approaches To PR
There are three scholarly approaches to PR:
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 judgement characterises the rhetorical approach and is 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
|1||The insight is based on 18+ years of practical consulting experience.|
|2||The medium is the message. (2023, February 25). In Wikipedia. The medium is the message. (2023, February 25). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message|
|3||The Handbook of Research for Communication and Technology, 34.5 Measuring Attitudes. In AECT.|