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David Rockland, Partner and CEO Ketchum Pleon Change: If You Can’t Count It, It Doesn’t Count!

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David, you are an outspoken professional when it comes to PR measurement and evaluation. What was the moment you realized that measurement is a pivotal issue for public relations?

I joined Ketchum almost 11 years ago and I quickly realized that public relations should demonstrate results in order to have relevance and value.

PR practitioners have often complained about not being taken as seriously as other fields such as advertising or direct mail. One of the reasons for that was related to measurement. So, measurement is something that needs to play a more important role in the industry.

I am also aware that you teach a Research Methodology class at the New York University. However, a report published by the Commission of Public Relations Education shows that there isn’t a focus on research in undergraduate PR programs. How well are students prepared to face the measurement challenges?

I believe that’s true. Particularly at the undergraduate level, people major in PR and they often say: “I’m really bad at math, so I am going to go into communications.” We need to change that, from the perspective that you have to know some level of math and analytics to work in public relations. Similarly, the people who are skilled in math and analytics have a legitimate place in the public relations field.

But do you think this is changing? Or do you think anybody is doing something to chance this situation?

I think it’s changing from a couple of different perspectives. PR is growing in importance in marketing and a lot of people who major in marketing are increasingly running PR programs or get involve in some way in PR. The field of public relations becomes part of the responsibilities of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), who is often analytical and sees the need for PR to be more quantitative. Also, people who are more quantitative should go into the field.

In an interview, you emphasized that PR will use more sophisticated evaluation tools, such as the analytical models that have been applied by researchers in marketing. Does this make public relations more of a business discipline than a social science one?

I think very much that PR is increasingly a business discipline. And it is not very different, frankly, than advertising as a business discipline. In fact, to me, they are almost identical. If you look at PR 20 years ago, you would think of it as a field where fun events happened. But PR has become more diverse. Yes, PR is still fun, but the field is becoming more serious. Measurement is like chicken & egg. Does measurement make things more serious? Or is the field becoming more serious and, therefore, we are having better measurement? I think these two things go hand in hand.

The third annual European Summit on Measurement took place in Lisbon just a few weeks ago. There, the 200 participants ranked the need of instituting a client education program as a top issue. What are the steps to do that?

From Lisbon came an agenda for the future of PR measurement. On the top of the agenda was measuring ROI. Instituting client education programs was ranked the forth.

In terms of client education, the first step is called the professional associations. Whether they are in Romania, UK, or Brazil, they should focus an increasing amount of their professional activities in the area of measurement. What you’re seeing is that clients (and I think of a couple of mine such as FedEx) increasingly need to measure well. Particularly as the line between marketing and communication is blurring more every single day.

The associations and publications like yours hopefully will push and will continue to advocate for the evaluation and measurement in PR. Because, if you don’t measure, it doesn’t matter. There is this expression we use: “If you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.” If we want public relations to count, we have to count it.

One of the things that pushes that to happen is the recession. Suddenly, the need for measurement becomes more important, because there are fewer dollars to spend. So, clients say: “OK. If I give you money, what do I get from this?” So, I think this last recession helped measurement happen. The measurement has always been a hot topic, but it became hotter.

From an evaluation standpoint, do social media add more stress to the job of reporting the PR’s contribution, on the top of the traditional media measurement?

I think social media make it harder. If you are thinking at the traditional media as a one-way street, as the placement of an article in a newspaper and then you are done, that requires a different evaluation. In social media you are having a conversation, a dialog. So, it’s harder to measure that dialog than the very straight forward placement of an article.

So, I think social media are making it harder, but the same principles apply: the ones of measuring quantity, quality, and reaching the right audience. These principles don’t change by the type of media we use.

Would you like to leave a message for our PR Romania readers?

I think Romania has brought many important products to this world. One that I tried recently is a beverage called “palincă.” After I recovered from it, I started to think it’s an important thing. Smile

For your readers, probably the most important thing is to take a look at what came out of first Barcelona and then Lisbon, and contribute to the discussion of the incorporation of the PR measurement into PR. Also, there is a practice of using AVEs as a method of evaluation. The more PR Romania readers can understand why that’s wrong and use more valid approaches to measurement, that would be very helpful.

And maybe we will see a few representatives from Romania at the next European Summit on Measurement, which will probably be in June next year.

David Rockland, Ph.D., is Partner and CEO at Ketchum Pleon Change. Also, he serves as Director of AMEC (The International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication), the organization that coordinated the third annual European Summit on Measurement in Lisbon. Having 11 years of experience in PR, David keeps in touch with the academia, teaching a class in Methods of Research at the New York University.

Interview by Rebeca Pop, Editor PR Romania. Copyright PR Romania

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