Posts Tagged ‘@Geoff_Barbaro’

Measurement Crucial to PR’s Business Value

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

My learned Australian colleague Geoff Barbaro waxes rant in a post from 17 May (US time), where he inveighs against measurement.  Perhaps not the concept, as much as the practice. He asks:

Do you measure how you look after your family? Do you count the meals, the trips to school, the time spent with children to evaluate effectiveness? When you buy that great new dress or suit that you love, did you then sit down and work through complex metrics to measure what you did?

So why do you think it’s different in business? I’ll tell you why, it’s because you don’t trust people to do the job you employed them to do. You don’t believe they are motivated and care about their work, so you can only make sure they are working by measuring what they do, and then argue that this is the motivational tool. Measuring because “we do what we measure” is a failure of leadership, a failure of motivation, a failure of selection, a failure to define values, a failure of engagement and a failure of communication.

Sorry, Geoff, but this is fuzzy-headed thinking about a vital enhancement to the profession of Public Relations.

I started a comment on Geoff’s blog (a fine and interesting read, btw), but found that it was all too likely that I’d hijack it. And that’s not right. So, here is my reply to Geoff’s shot across the bow. Man the torpedos!


Oh, my. Nothing like an existential rant to get one’s blood up, eh Geoff?

Let’s start by differentiating terms. Measurement isn’t gotcha. It’s not “check-up-on-the-poor-employees.” Neither is it merely about outputs or activities, at least not when it’s strategic.

We in PR have long been the only department in a firm that can say to the C-suite, “trust me” and get away with it. The question on the CEO (and CFO, especially) mind these days, however, is, “What business value do I get for my investment in PR?”

We can take a SWAG (stupid, wild-assed guess) at the answer, but then we sound like witless weasels (um, we build reputation and protect…uh, no, uh, we get media coverage…no, uh, we help the organization communicate effectively, wait, ummmm.)

The fact is that most of us don’t have a clue what the quantifiable business value of PR is, and that’s why PRSA has commissioned a task force to work on that very question. It’s also one of the driving forces in modern PR. It’s created an industry specialty that people are finding value in, even though there is much sophistry and bad measurement out there.

In modern business, every department must contribute to the bottom line. So, direct sales and the support for sales is a winner, as is direct effort to improve efficiency, save money, etc. There’s also credible research about the effect on brand awareness, attitude and disposition of various PR activity. On the internal side, engagement metrics, and employee knowledge and behavioral metrics lend credence to a communicator’s value.

The trick is to a) Measure what matters; and b) Link communication outputs to business outcomes. This is, indeed, a hairy process, filled with risks — bad math the most prevalent, if you ask me.  Correlation is not causation, but frequently it’s a pretty good stand-in for it, if your math is good.  We mustn’t give up on the goal of establishing impact metrics and ROI just because it’s so much easier if we don’t!

I don’t know, Geoff, if I agree that “what gets measured gets done,” but I’m sure that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.