It happens every year, especially around this time: at some point, our clients will ask for some kind of metrics to demonstrate the value of their work – and by extension, ours. Even when we’ve built measurement into our planning, the team may feel they’re being put on the defensive, particularly when program elements change over the course of the year, or when the client’s goals and objectives shift. It may seem like measurement is a kind of report card that has to be handed in, and we worry about getting “graded” on something we’re not entirely in control of.
It’s understandable! Meaningful measurement isn’t easy, and there is no single approach that suits all projects. But, there is an increasing expectation that PR provide tangible data to support the effectiveness of its tactics. Here are some common points of resistance and some tips to make measurement a little less painful:
“I’m just not a numbers person.” While it is true that measurement is inherently quantitative, it’s not really about the numbers. Measurement today requires outputs with direct linkages to the organization’s objectives. The challenge is that those objectives are rarely static, as the client’s needs often change over time, and/or you discover there were unstated internal goals as well. Developing that understanding should be your main concern; the numbers simply support the narrative.
“It didn’t quite go the way we expected, and we fell a little short of our targets.” In these situations, it’s helpful to set the numbers aside for the moment. Ask: were they the right targets? Maybe they seemed right at the beginning, but things changed and they no longer fit. This is especially true when you’ve had established metrics for more than a year; while that kind of continuity can be useful as a benchmark, it’s more important to show you can adapt to changing priorities. Measurement is also feedback, and revisiting a program’s metrics (preferably on an ongoing basis) allows you to course correct along the way, and inform strategy moving forward. It’s a tool, not the final word on the value of your work.
“We’ve got all the data, but the client’s boss doesn’t get PR.” Ok, this is legitimately nerve-wracking, and there isn’t an easy answer. But it does speak to a critical component of measurement: know your audience. How will the client use this? Who will see it? Increasingly, we’re seeing a need for highly visual and straightforward reports, which can also be adapted for different audiences within the client’s organization.
In short, PR measurement is every bit as much about the story as PR itself. It does ask that you move beyond simply “engaging stakeholders” to understanding the how and the why. Whether you are planning ahead or looking back on the year, figure out the story you want to tell, and then look for tangible ways to illustrate it.