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Let’s Look at PR Through an Evaluation Lens. A talk with Ruth Pestana, Worldwide Director of Strategic Services, Hill & Knowlton

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PR has been growing as a profession for almost a century. Why did we wait so long to establish a set of evaluation measurements?

Actually, we have not waited a long time. A lot of things in measurement have already existed. I think that perhaps they were not as well publicized as they are now, but the Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation of the Institute for Public Relations has published papers on best practices in measurement, has provided a dictionary of measurement terminology, and guidelines. I think the difference with the Barcelona Principles was that it was endorsed by a number of PR organizations around the world.

That being said, a lot of the content in the Barcelona Principles had already been discussed at previous measurement conferences and a lot of the thinking behind it existed already. So, it is not that guidelines did not exist before, but they were not as well known.

If the Barcelona Principles represent a baby step, how would you define the outcomes of the PR Measurement Summit in Lisbon?

I think we can look at the Barcelona Summit as setting the foundation for PR measurement. We often talk about the Barcelona Principles as the floor, because they were the minimum standards. Coming out of Lisbon, we are looking at the future, asking ourselves things such as: "What do we need to do next?"; "What is the biggest issue in measurement that we need to solve together as an industry?";  "How do all these people work together to achieve measurement standards?"

At the Lisbon Summit, there were priorities that were designated as the areas that we are going to focus on (NB: determining how best to measure public relations’ ROI; creating and adopting global standards for social media measurement; solidifying campaign and program measurement’s role as an intrinsic part of the PR toolkit; instituting client education programs). So there will be a number of different organizations involved in tackling these priorities.

As you mentioned, a set of principles were created as a result of the Barcelona Summit. In Lisbon, the participants ranked the most important issues. What have we achieved and what is the next step?

The next measurement conference is going to be in Philadelphia, and represents another major event for the PR measurement community. So, a lot of the things that we prioritized at Lisbon as the issues we needed to tackle, will be discussed in Philadelphia. We will also set up some task forces. We will bring together all the various organizations to look at the four things that we prioritized. Some of these are quite big, so I think it will take a while to actually complete them.

About 200 professionals participated at the Lisbon summit this year. What role does the cultural diversity play in making decisions and how do you reach an agreement across countries?

There were various differences among countries, but many of the challenges were the same. I think that the participants did not find as many issues in cultural differences as compared to what we wanted to achieve as a group. When we voted on the issues, there was quite a cohesiveness in terms of importance. Although there are differences between markets, the issues that we face, with regard to measurement, are similar.

In a PR Week article, you argued that the “total value of PR” or the “the impact of PR” would be a better way of defining PR’s contribution than ROI. However, what would you reply to a stubborn CEO, determined to find out how his investment could be translated into profit?

Whenever possible, I think we should try to calculate ROI. What I was arguing was that ROI  is a subset of the total value of PR. So, in a PR program, there will be many elements that cannot be measured in terms of financial return. For example, in campaigns of corporate reputation, building the relationship with the stakeholders, with the government, or with the NGOs is a very important task, but it is hard to quantify its financial value.

However, that does not mean that, where possible, we should not be trying to calculate the return on investment. In the instances when you can look at the savings generated, or you are able to look at the sales generated by a PR campaign, then I think you should calculate ROI. Also, that would help to raise the profile of PR in the eyes of a CEO.

What would be the first steps for a PR practitioner who wants to give up using AVEs and start implementing a change in evaluating public relations?

As a first step, I would advise him to start looking at other metrics for measuring media coverage. AVEs are used for measuring media coverage, but they are full of problems, for a number of reasons. There are other media coverage metrics which show a lot more meaningful results. To give some examples, things like measuring the tonality, looking at key messages, at the number of mentions within the article, whether or not the company or brand was mentioned in the headline, and if there was a photo. These are all factors in media relations that a media coverage analysis should include. 

Then, one should look at other metrics besides media coverage, such as other outputs and if possible, outcome metrics. So, is it possible to track sales? Is it possible to track any cost savings? Is it possible to track an actual outcome, whether it is getting a piece of legislation passed or maybe helping to build some other form of tangible business outcome. Those are very important things to try to tie back to the PR campaign. If those are not possible, there are still other metrics to be considered, such as web traffic, or whether or not you increased engagement through social media. Also, what is helpful to measure is to survey the audience you are trying to reach through your campaign and see if you changed the opinion, if it’s more favorable towards the company as a result of the campaign.

Going back to what you mentioned earlier, there is this whole debate about how to measure social media. If a practitioner tries to engage its public, what metrics would you advise him to use?

In terms of engagement, there are a number of different things that you could be measuring. If, for example, you created a community website for a particular campaign, you should measure the number of visitors, the time spent on the site, the number of downloads and the number of comments. Also, if there is any type of voting, you should measure how many votes it got. Then, to measure reach, you can measure things like whether the website was mentioned in other social media sources such as twitter, the number of links to the website, the number of facebook fans, or the number of people mentioning it on blogs.

Ruth Pestana serves as Worldwide Director of Strategic Services for Hill & Knowlton. She leads strategic planning and measurement programs for clients. Originally from Australia, Ruth has lived and worked in Asia, Europe, and the US.  She holds an MBA from London Business School, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Curtin University, Australia. Prior to business school, Ruth was a consultant at Interbrand in Singapore. 

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

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