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Twenty-five ways PR agencies can embrace better measurement and evaluation

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Jon Meakin

For 25 years, the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has been at the heart of the debate about why comms professionals need to take evaluation seriously, and how to go about doing so. 

So why are we still so bad at it? 

Great progress has been made over the past quarter century, with the establishment of a set of guiding principles (the Barcelona Principles), and a number of free-to-use tools, like the Integrated Evaluation Framework, developed by world-leading thinkers in this area. But I think that even those who have been involved since AMEC’s inception would agree that we still have a long way to go.  

Yes, AMEC still has a way to go before best practice is adopted everywhere, but that’s not on AMEC – it’s on the baffling reluctance of so many to take the issue seriously. 

As Chair of AMEC’s Agency Group, and someone whose first agency job pre-dates even AMEC, I am unashamedly coming at this from the perspective of ‘an agency guy’. I just don’t get it. If you work for an agency, why would you not want to be able to prove that the campaign you’ve sweated over has actually worked? 

The argument I often hear is that measurement and evaluation is an expensive luxury, something only ‘the big agencies’ can afford to do, with their big client budgets and deep pockets. 

Bull. 

Some of the agencies doing the best and most innovative work in this area are small, independent shops, who recognize the need to be accountable for their clients’ investments. 

I think the real reason is more simple than that. It’s fear. Fear and paralysis. 

Fear of the different skills needed to measure and evaluate properly, and paralysis about not knowing what to do about it. 

So what can you do about it? 

I’ve always believed in keeping things simple and practical, so here are 25 things that anyone in an agency can do right now to take a step towards embracing measurement and evaluation best practice.  

  1. Face your fears: The fear is real (I’ve been there) and for many in our profession it’s not unwarranted. Most PR professionals lean towards the creative, and are less comfortable with analytical tasks. But we’re not talking about quantum mathematics here; not only can you do it, you can derive a lot of satisfaction from it. Face your fears, be strong, and grasp the nettle. Dive in. 
  2. Learn the language: Remember when you started in PR? There was a whole lexicon you had to learn, that is now second nature. The same is true of the measurement and evaluation world. It’s a shallow learning curve and you will quickly become confident and conversant in the differences between outputs, out-takes and outcomes, and more besides.
  3. Avoid the jargon: Learning the language is important, but so too is avoiding the jargon. There are certainly specialists in this field who love nothing more than to geek out on correlation coefficients and the like, but here’s the thing: You don’t need to. As comms professionals, our job is to keep things simple, and to take people with us on a journey – in this case, your clients and your colleagues. 
  4. Tap into the measurement and evaluation community: In my experience, PR measurement folks are extremely friendly, and very willing to share their knowledge. It doesn’t take too much digging to find some free advice, and experts willing to dispense it.
  5. Figure out where you are on the journey: We often talk about this as a journey, and very few journeys are completed in a single bound. So figure out where you are on that journey, and what your next steps could be, using the Measurement Maturity Mapper – a free tool designed for exactly this purpose. 
  6. Unlearn: This field is full of bad practices that have become accepted wisdom, so let’s stop doing them. For example, let’s stop our obsession with big numbers and thinking that aggregating media circulation figures tells us how many people we’ve actually reached, or that a big number is even what we need. As David Ogilvy said, “It’s not about counting the people you reach, it’s reaching the people who count”. 
  7. Build on what you are already doing: You’re probably already reporting on which media you’re penetrating. But make two small tweaks and that report becomes a lot more powerful: (1) Prioritize your media targets and identify which ones are the most important to your client, then look at which of those you’re penetrating – forget the rest; (2) now you’re dealing with a smaller media universe you can spend more time actually analyzing your coverage – what’s your key message penetration like, for example? Suddenly, your simple report is a lot more valuable, and can help you determine what you should do next, or do differently.
  8. Start with one client: You may have dozens of clients, and trying to evolve the way you evaluate all of them is a daunting prospect. So don’t try and change them all at once. Pick one. Pick the one that is most open to joining you on this journey, and embark upon it together. Refine as you go, and apply what you learn to other clients, later. 
  9. Lead by example: You don’t have to be a senior manager to be a leader. In fact, many innovations start at a grassroots level. Don’t wait to be told by your agency boss of some agency-wide initiative on this front, because it probably isn’t coming. Be the leader yourself, start making incremental changes and improvements, and others will follow.  
  10. Enlist colleagues: It’s hard to be a lone voice, so bring colleagues into the fold by extolling the benefits of better measurement and evaluation: More effective campaigns, bigger budgets, improved client satisfaction, improved client retention, kudos, awards, industry standing… who could resist? 
  11. Use the tools you have: One of the great myths is that you must have an expensive suite of sophisticated tools,, and that this prices out many smaller agencies. It’s simply not true. The media monitoring tool you already use probably includes some kind of analytics function. Ask your vendor for a demo, and figure out what small steps you can take to improve your evaluation efforts with the tools you already have. 
  12. Use technology but don’t be a slave to it: If you are in the fortunate position of having access to a great tech stack, make sure you are using it, and not the other way around. The tech is there to help you uncover truths about your effectiveness, it is not in itself what matters. 
  13. Measure what matters: Just because we can measure almost everything now, does not mean we should. If you ask your client (and you should), they will list one to three things that they really care about – those are the things on which you should focus. Measure those things, forget the rest. 
  14. Steal with abandon, don’t reinvent the wheel: Many agencies will claim to have some secret sauce when it comes to measurement and evaluation – some cool piece of tech or proprietary methodology. That may be the case, but the truth is that there is a universally agreed set of principles, and a universally agreed best practice framework. And they are free. Use them. 
  15. Adapt to your needs: Nothing is set in stone. So yes, use the frameworks and other tools that have already been built for you, but don’t be afraid to adapt them to your needs. The Integrated Evaluation Framework can be a bit intimidating for clients that are at the outset of their measurement journey, so you might want to pare it back. 
  16. Standardize and systematize: As any junior account executive knows, measurement and evaluation can be very time-consuming. And unless you’re doing it properly, and your clients are acting on recommendations you make as a result, there is a risk that it’s time wasted, too. As you start to apply your learnings across multiple clients throughout your agency, try and stick to one methodology; this will make the process much quicker and easier for all concerned. 
  17. Be clear about measurement vs reporting: Measurement and reporting are often lumped together under that catch-all, ‘account management’. But they are most definitely not the same thing. Measurement requires serious analysis of your results, and should result in forward looking recommendations, while reporting is simply how we display those results and recommendations. And we’re often not very good at that, either…
  18. Think of it as storytelling: PR people love to describe themselves as storytellers, but often let themselves down when it comes to the story of what our evaluation tells us. Use your reports as opportunities to tell stories of your successes and your failures (yes, there are always failures) and to point the way to what the next chapter should say. 
  19. Celebrate your successes: Try not to let the analytical side of your brain take over. Great coverage is worth celebrating, it’s your chance to show off, and you absolutely should. But that should be the starting point for a discussion, not the end. 
  20. Be forward-looking: Great evaluations are prescriptive, not descriptive. Yes, you need to look back, but mainly to assess what worked and what could be improved upon. Great evaluation answers the questions ‘so what?’ and ‘now what?’.
  21. Shock your bosses into action: Your agency boss may be a bit old school and not believe in the need for robust measurement and evaluation. They may resist your efforts to innovate and introduce new practices. But the bosses at Blockbuster thought they had a solid business, too. That upstart agency down the road is the Netflix to your boss’s Blockbuster, and they are coming for your clients. 
  22. Understand you are not alone: You may feel like a lone voice, sometimes, but the need to get to grips with measurement and evaluation is not unique to your agency, it is an industry-wide problem. You are not alone. There are others like you out there, who are trying to find their way through the fog. Find them, talk to them, share your challenges, learn from them. 
  23. Join AMEC: The best way to find like-minded professionals is through AMEC. AMEC has a dedicated Agency Group, that operates under the banner of ‘common ground’, in recognition of the fact that this is an industry-wide challenge, and that a rising tide will lift all boats. Join today. 
  24. Evangelize: You don’t have to be a Measurement Master to grasp the seriousness of the issue, or to spread the world about all of the ways in which we can improve, as professionals, and as a profession. Take to Twitter, chime in on the Clubhouse Measurement Monday discussions, and talk to your peers and colleagues. Go BIG and go through the AMEC process to become a trainer on the tools you will use with your clients;  what better way to expand your skills and apply your learning right away? The agency may even turn this into a revenue stream.
  25. Start today! Inertia is real, and the task before you may feel daunting, but, to coin a phrase, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. 

 

Jon Meakin has more than 25 years’ public relations experience, encompassing consumer, corporate, and business-to-business communications, and crisis and issues management. His career to date has seen him work for boutique agencies and international networks alike, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jon was recently appointed President, North America, for Clarity, where, as well as being responsible for the growth and strategic direction of the agency’s expanding US footprint, he is also global lead on measurement, evaluation and impact.

Prior to this, Jon ran the West Coast team for Grayling, where he oversaw strategy and execution for domestic and international clients, from startups to blue chip multinationals. He was concurrently responsible for that agency’s global Strategic Services team, whose remit encompassed research, insights and strategy; measurement and evaluation; creative and content solutions; and the agency’s proprietary online reputation management tool, which Jon developed.

Jon is a regular judge of PR and creative industry awards, a speaker at international conferences, and has run crisis simulation exercises for clients and conference delegates the world over.

In addition, Jon has been a Board member of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) since 2018, and is the founding Chair of that body’s Agency Group, where his focus is on embedding measurement and evaluation best practice throughout the PR agency world.

Republish with the permission of the author. 

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