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Measurement Myths, Misconceptions & Misfires

A couple years back I wrote a blog post that may be worth resurrecting. It could almost be the annual affirmation of the PR and communications measurement world.
Having researched the topic extensively for a masters thesis; having been in the research and measurement side of the biz for several years; having sat across the table talking about measurement with senior practitioners; having attended numerous conferences, speaking at several; having observed superiors, mentors, and industry gurus–what’s emerged is a series of fairly common challenges, concerns, myths, misconceptions, and barriers—both perceived and real–that practitioners most frequently cite as impediments to the adoption of measurement.
Here are the 15 most commonly-cited (but not insurmountable) measurement myths, misconceptions, misfires, and barriers:

  1. Senior management misunderstanding of and/or resistance to measurement
  2. PR practitioners’ worry that measurement will show the bad as well as the good. Yes it does and yes it should.
  3. Inertia: accommodating, disentangling, reversing legacy methods, reversing momentum
  4. Territoriality: research is typically the exclusive domain of the marketing department
  5. Immeasurable and unrealistic objectives and thinking of measurement as some that’s only post campaign evaluative and not pre-campaign formative.
  6. Too simplistic a view of communications theory and what is realistically achievable
  7. Lack of holistic, macro view of the communications function: it’s not about media, it’s about relationships and reputation.
  8. Sourcing data: format, volume, frequency of and what to do with it once you have it
  9. Establishing and maintaining an ongoing database
  10. Standardization across organization(s), among external agencies (and a disturbing call for standardization across the industry)…best practices and guiding principles, absolutely, but standards, no.
  11. Competition for budget with other complementary, overlapping disciplines: marketing, traditional advertising, social media.
  12. Misconceptions to do with cost—it’s rarely as expensive as most think. A car is only expensive the first time you buy one. The second car is only more or less expensive than the first. Zero multiplied by anything is still zero. Can’t afford to? Can you afford not to? Good measurement pays for itself.
  13. Time & expertise: PR practitioners’ research orientations and skill sets. PR pros shouldn’t necessarily be expected to do their own dental work.
  14. Benefits of measurement are generally long term, demand for data and results often short term and we’re all too often looking at a singular snapshot in time not trends over time.
  15. Assumptions concerning isolating for PR’s unique contribution to the communications and/or marketing mix in a causal sort of way—we can do this, we just don’t do it enough. And we’re not even doing enough of one step below that: correlation work. We can do that too. Often that’s a step in the right direction up the measurement staircase.

Few would disagree, I suspect, that the profession has been allowed to stand on the ‘we are about words (and art) not numbers (a management science) for too long. PR is best considered as the right combination of both and not one at the expense of the other.
Public Relations is a comparatively young, somewhat under (but increasingly) theorized profession that pines for professional legitimacy (at least optically as we already know we deserve it) and pines for securing or maintaining our seat at the C-suite table. Certainly research and measurement is not the only means to achieving this end, but it can and will continue to play a critical role.

Alan Chumley, Director of Communications Research, Leger Marketing, is an instructor of communications research in the PR programs at Ryerson and McMaster Universities, an associate member of the CPRS measurement committee, as well as an industry speaker, conference chair, and blogger: