Take Measurement and Evaluation Seriously

  Sean Williams

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that students of public relations don’t imagine that there will be much demand for mathematical skills in their prospective profession.  That might be one reason they choose PR in the first place.

Sorry to disappoint, but PR is more quantitative and more research-focused than you might think.

For years, PR got by with a smile and a haystack full of clips. But now, the flinty-eyed leadership is asking hard questions about the impact of PR activity, and they’re not buying “it’s an art” as our final answer.

Making data-driven decisions requires good research, and whether as agency or in-house counsel, PR people are being held to an increasingly high standard.

Here’s why it’s pretty easy for even the most math-averse to be comfortable in the measurement realm.

  1. The software does the math.  Microsoft Excel will do almost any statistical function for you and will walk you through the process. 
  2. There are a ton of resources to teach yourself research terms, early statistical analysis, and common research methods. The Institute for PR has a treasure trove of papers written by PR practitioners, suppliers, academics and others that can help you understand these concepts.
  3. You have many electives –course hours you need to fill from outside your major.  Take an extra statistics or research methods class.

To help you get a grasp of the main concepts, here are three terms you need to know:

Content Analysis: Looking at what the media articles say about your company, organization or school is fundamental to our profession.  Figuring out whether the news clips are good, bad or indifferent is part art and part science, a great metaphor for our profession.  There are many different ways of analyzing content, so do some study to help you understand how it works.

Correlation:  The relationship between two things (variables); do they move together, or not?  How much does one variable affect another?  Correlation is expressed as a number between +1 and -1, passing through 0.  If 10 calls to a sales phone number resulted in 10 sales, that’s perfect correlation (+1) If a survey shows that understanding of the company’s strategy doesn’t change if managers hold weekly staff meetings, that’s no correlation (0). If understanding gets worse if managers hold weekly staff meetings, that’s negative correlation.  In a nutshell, seeing what happens to Web traffic, calls to a phone number, store traffic and sales after a media campaign is becoming a foundation skill in PR.

Causation:  A causes B.  If a manager is the only source of a piece of information, an employee’s awareness of that information is caused by the manager telling him or her.  We never want to mistake correlation for causation – there is a fair amount of fuzzy thinking on this in PR. We want to take credit for something when our activity is part of many other activities. Sales increase, or rising stock price? PR activity may be correlated with those things, but it’s unlikely to be the cause of them.

Okay, so this is simplified, um, a lot.

That proves my point.  If this past few paragraphs were all you ever knew about measurement, you wouldn’t be too helpful to your client or employer, right?   On the other hand, if this little discussion hasn’t entirely filled you with fear and loathing, you can build on this first brick in your PR measurement foundation.

Sean Williams is CEO of Communication AMMO, Inc., a Cleveland-based consultancy in strategy, internal communication and PR measurement/evaluation.  You can follow Sean on Twitter at @CommAMMO and he blogs at: CommunicationAMMO.com.

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