3 reasons why you shouldn’t measure PR

There are times when measurement is a waste of time and does you no good. Don’t believe me? Take a look.

Being a measurement evangelist feels like really hard work sometimes. On the one hand, I haven’t been at it long enough to complain—witness the indefatigable Katie Paine and Angela Jeffrey, who’ve been toiling in the trenches for, well, a long time.

But aren’t there situations where measurement is unnecessary?

Take Walmart, for example. Its stock is suffering, there are employee lawsuits, and one of its stores has been destroyed by a tornado. How much measurement does it need to know media coverage is, well, tortuous? It’s likely that no amount of proactive management is going to turn the story around, at least not meaningfully.

Banks are another example. Yep, the titans of capitalism are currently getting the lion’s share of blame for the financial crisis. Can’t you make an educated guess about its coverage?

Aside from my personal financial stake in getting Walmart or a big bank to hire me to help them with measurement, I’ll give you three reasons why you should not measure—and three reasons why you should.

Forget measurement when:

1. You cannot make a difference. Sometimes business will hand you a dirt sandwich, and you have no choice but to eat it. There’s no need to weigh the sandwich, examine the types of dirt, evaluate the sandwich-maker, etc. Just eat it and move on.

2. You’re unwilling to do what it takes to make things better. Often, the worst media situations are when you’re making tough choices: layoffs, facility closures, relocations, or hiring more executives. The path to turning the story around leads through the organization revisiting its management decisions—deciding not to outsource, keeping the plant open and operating, renovating existing headquarters rather than pitting your incumbent city against somewhere else. See #1, above.

3. It’s more expensive to measure than the program you’re measuring. Advanced statistics are miraculous. We absolutely can measure the specific impact of public relations/communication activity on the bottom line. We just need a lot of data to isolate our impact from everything else that influences the bottom line. That costs money (not as much as you might think, but still,) so let’s spend wisely.

Do measurement when:

1. You care about whether what you’re doing is working or not. You have objectives, and hopefully, they’re specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. They have a benchmark, target and timeframe. So, if you don’t measure, how do you know whether you’re making progress?

2. You know you need to change. Make data-driven decisions. Your intuition is flawless, of course, but as I’ve said many times, the days of PR/communications being able to wave a hand and say, “trust me” to the c-suite are over. A former boss told me, “facts and data win the day,” and that’s good advice.

3. You need numbers to share with the numbers people. There are times when the people you need demand numbers—qualitative or quantitative. Measure to give them what they need. That may include share of voice/discussion, peer comparison of tone, trends in coverage overall, message presence/absence, or correlation of coverage to Web traffic. Do measurement when you need to do it.

There is one other reason to measure PR: it’s the right thing to do. It puts us on a firmer foundation. It informs our opinions and enhances our credibility.

What’s your view?

Sean Williams is CEO of Communication AMMO and member of the Institute for PR Measurement Commission.

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