PR Measurement in 2022: Where are we now, and where are we going?

PR Measurement in 2022: Where are we now, and where are we going?

We spoke with PR measurement guru Richard Bagnall about PR's problem with measurement and what we should do to hold ourselves accountable.

This article is based on a recent interview we held with Richard Bagnall, Co-Managing Partner of CARMA (the oldest of the PR measurement and analytics powerhouses) and Chairman of the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, AMEC. You can watch Richard's interview in full here.

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There's too much tendency in the measurement industry to over-complicate things and make stuff seem impenetrable, where actually measurement should be easy to understand.

It shouldn't be something that's feared. It should be something that we all embrace and we all do.

Richard Bagnall
Richard BagnallCARMA

We have a million tracking tools at our disposal. Why aren't they working?

The year is 2022. It's the future. We have flying cars (in movies). There has never been a time throughout human history when we have had more opportunities to measure our audience interaction and the impact of our work.

Not just our audiences; every audience. We can see what people are watching, who they're engaging with, what they're talking about, what they value, what they had for breakfast. There's no lack of ability to aggregate, track, and analyze data.

But for some reason, we're just not doing it right. Why not?

80% of the PR industry is doing data wrong

Okay, "wrong" might be a little dramatic, but 80–90% are certainly not using measurement to paint a complete picture of the efficacy of their work. Instead of finding the metrics to guide our campaigns and gauge whether or not they're having the effect we intended, we're simple parroting numbers that make us sound good without really knowing what they mean.

80% of the industry is still at that tactical, backward-looking measurement, just counting some big numbers, and only the enlightened 10% or 20% are looking for stuff that really does help them with their strategy and then really embrace it as well, because that's the key thing.

You've got to then say, 'okay, well look, what have we learned from this? And how are we going to embrace it? And what are we going to do different?' And that takes courage. That takes forward-thinking people.

Richard Bagnall
Richard BagnallCARMA

And that's why so many people in PR get stuck in the weeds when it comes to measurement.

Being bad at measurement doesn't mean you're bad at PR.

We're in this business because we're skilled when it comes to people, not because we love statistics. And yet, with so many metrics at our fingertips we would be foolish not to cash in on their insights.

After all, without decent measurement, you can't know how effective your work is in achieving your – and the organization's – goals; your well-crafted press releases and masterful campaigns may be missing the mark and you'd never even know.

No one likes to do more work than they feel they have to, and no one likes to feel that they're being measured.

Data is only becoming more important to PR

Being able to measure and communicate your efficacy is how you continue to get paid by your clients. And while some people are really just that dedicated to the craft of communications, even more PR people enjoy eating food and living indoors. Go figure.

A CFO doesn't want to know how you feel about a campaign. They want to see data. Data that justifies them spending money on you.

With budgets getting strapped and data abounding, we're under pressure to be accountable; we need to be able to show hard proof that our work is generating value for the organization.

But it's not all about defending your role by pinning numbers to it. Tracking and understanding metrics pertinent to your work will help you learn what works and what doesn't, which will save you time and make your PR far more effective in the long run.

How are you then going to move forward to move up to manager, to director level, if you can't demonstrate the value of what you're doing and you can't discuss that either?

You need to be thinking more about the impact of what you're doing.

Laura Sutherland
Laura SutherlandPR Fest

Simply put, if you aren't measuring, you aren't learning.

Because until you make data measurement a consistent part of your overall strategy, you're doomed to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Of course, there will always be room for people who are content to execute on tactics without bothering themselves with the bigger picture – but it's that latter group that gets paid the big bucks.

The trend for 2022: Using metrics to inform strategy

Richard says that measurement should be able to answer:

  • “What?”
  • “So what?”
  • Now what?”

In other words, you need to know what you're measuring and why in order for any of it to have meaning.

If you're tracking data only to throw it in a Google Sheet or an Excel file in some folder at the back of your payment-pending Dropbox, stuck between blurry pictures of all the cats you wish you had, then that data isn't working for you. In fact, it might as well not even be there.

Pictured: not a data-informed strategy
Pictured: not a data-informed strategy

There's a reason so many of our PR Roundtable guests keep talking about strategy, and that's because people just aren't doing it. Or, they're doing a tiny, incomplete version of strategy. Or their strategy fails to grow and adapt because they aren't marrying it with – that's right – measurement.

If you feel like you are one of the people grasping at measurement but falling just short of turning that awkward pawing into a full embrace – and believe me, that's the majority of us – then here's what you gotta do.

  1. Speak with your stakeholders to find out the goals of the organization
  2. Figure out how your work can help bring the organization closer to achieving its goals
  3. Decide on the tactics you will use in pursuit of those goals and the metrics that will show whether those tactics are working
  4. Execute on all of the above and track your progress every inch of the way, ready to adjust course if the numbers tell you that your plan isn't working our the way you'd hoped

In short, you need to figure out your PR strategy.

Where do we go from here?

Talking about measurement is all well and good, but pretty much all advice on the matter falls short on revealing exactly what it is that you have to measure.

And that's because there isn't one magical metric that perfectly reflects the impact of your work. Sure, that makes sense – everything is subjective. We're all experiencing our own version of existence, every campaign is different, what might be right for you may not be right for some, etc etc.

But surely we can bring a bit more practical guidance to the conversation.

To do this, we're working on compiling a series of case studies into effective campaigns carried out by real-life PR people – that's right, you lot. We want to know what you were trying to achieve, what tactics you decided to employ to get there, how you measured them, and whether that strategy worked.

If you have a story to share, please get in touch.

To be looped in on the guide when it's published, sign up to our newsletter, which will pop into your inbox every fortnight or so to share a new article on a hot topic in comms, or invite you to our next expert livestream.

And hey, if you're into measurement, check out the AMEC Global Summit on Measurement coming up May 23–25 of this year in Vienna. And, of course, follow the man himself Richard Bagnall on Twitter.

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Kate Bystrova

Kate Bystrova

Chief Storyteller, Prezly

Published February 2022

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