Just the other day I saw a post from Sean Williams titled 3 reasons why you shouldn’t measure PR. Sean is the CEO of Communication AMMO and member of the Institute for PR Measurement Commission in the US. You can see the whole post here: http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/43057.aspx?format=2
Sean’s post was supported by comments from Professor Jim Macnamara – who teaches at a Sydney university.
Sean says you shouldn’t worry about measuring communication activity when:
1. You cannot make a difference,
2. You’re unwilling to do what it takes to make things better, or
3. It’s more expensive to measure a program than to do it.
The more I’ve thought about his words, the more I struggle with the logic. To illustrate why, and to provide a kind of reasonability test for the arguments, I’ve applied Sean’s thinking to another everyday form of measurement: accounting. Why accounting? Because both PR measurement and accounting are simply means to an end; they’re tools that ideally inform better organizational outcomes.
They both do that by assisting an organization to: understand its current position, inform planning efforts, and determine the right tactical responses to various situations.
Anyway, Sean’s statements – when applied to accounting – look like this:
See how these sound at odds with accepted standards of transparency and completeness in this different context? So why did Sean place limits on the need to measure what’s going on in your environment?
I suspect there are two reasons. Firstly, like many in the PR field, he may define communication measurement too tightly – perhaps as only the stuff you get external agencies to do for you. But there are many organizations that successfully run their own measurement systems in-house – just as most organizations have in-house bookkeeping or accounting functions. The cost of this work is built right into the comms function’s running costs, which weakens his argument that it’s an unaffordable practice under certain circumstances. It simply becomes a necessary part of what we do.
Secondly, he may also be focused only on measurement of out-bound communication efforts. But again I think that’s too limiting.
Is the function of a professional communicator purely to grind away at placing organizational messages? Or should comms groups be about more than that? Shouldn’t we also be monitoring and taking the pulse of the media space to see what’s happening outside our organizations, and alerting our executive teams to how events are likely to impact on the organization’s prospects? If so, then we need to be measuring both inbound influences and outbound placement activities.
The big difference of course, is that assuming a more complete role allows professional communicators to provide valuable insights and to be advisors to their organizations: to become part of the management planning and execution process.
I hear a lot of communications folk complaining about not being taken seriously by senior management, and how PR in particular generally lacks the status of other professions. I’ve been there and I understand the difficulties.
But perhaps one way to change all that is to stop being “the story placement guy” and to start providing a more complete more rounded communication service to the organization. And that requires the input from good, informative measurement systems; ones that aren’t optional.