Survey: Most pros measure PR but aren’t thrilled about it

Manpower, tools, and time remain roadblocks, prompting a resounding ‘meh,’ about just how well their metrics are succeeding, a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions poll reveals.

A vast majority of PR professionals measure their public relations efforts, but few are sufficiently satisfied with their efforts, according to a Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions online survey.

Most respondents—79 percent—say they measure PR; the remaining 21 percent don’t. However, only about 6 percent of respondents rated themselves “very satisfied” with their measurement, and 18 percent said they are “satisfied.”

Discontent about measurement—and what to measure—are among the issues that emerged in a poll of 1,467 PR professionals.

The survey, which resulted in a free white paper, also sheds light on roadblocks to measurement; it reveals that most measurement is done in-house, and that only 25 percent are confident in their understanding of return on investment.

On the question of satisfaction, the largest group—47 percent—rated themselves a tepid “somewhat satisfied.” Twenty percent of respondents are “somewhat unsatisfied,” while 10 percent aren’t satisfied at all.

Miguel Verduzco Rodriguez, CEO of Tangerine Soul PR in Mexico City, says he is only “somewhat unsatisfied” with how his organization measures PR.

“Sadly in my Mexico, there are very few options to measure the things nowadays we need to measure,” Verduzco Rodriguez says. “I´m trying to find a way, an idea, to develop an app, to track and to put a price on the behavioral part and the credibility we, the PR pros can add to a brand.”

The survey’s satisfaction numbers may reflect a misunderstanding of what to measure, suggests Katie Delahaye Paine, CEO of the PR measurement firm KDPaine & Partners.

“So many people think they need to be tracking all the social media stuff without taking a step back and saying: ‘We do all this. What are the numbers I need to be looking at?'” she says.

Survey respondents work for PR firms, hospitals, universities, government agencies, and nonprofits. This is the second in a four-part series on the findings.

Roadblocks trip up measurement

The roadblocks are familiar to harried PR pros. Equal numbers—56 percent each—cite a lack of manpower or lack of time as primary problems. (Multiple choices were allowed on some questions.)

One government public affairs officer wrote: “We do not have adequate staff to conduct thorough campaign or routine news measurement. Generally, we throw out news releases and informally measure how much coverage we gained, which tier level of media reported on our news item, the tone of the reporting, whether the report includes our principal’s key message, and the tone of reader comments.”

Fifty-two percent answered, “We don’t know which tools to use.” Thirty-nine percent said, “We don’t know what to measure [emphasis added],” while 36 percent said they don’t know how to measure. One stated, “Most of my work is in social marketing, and it’s hard to know how to best measure attitudes and what impacts behavior.”

Lack of time and manpower are a hindrance to Eric Berman, communications director of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. But measurement can especially present roadblocks for a group without a product or a widget to track, such as the association, which has 20,000 members and seeks to boost public awareness of Realtors.

He says: “There’s so much stuff where it’s like, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to put a measurement program into place, or to really spend some time and do these other things?’ But the business of the day sometimes gets in the way.”

Most measure in-house

Our survey respondents are a hands-on bunch: 85 percent measure in-house, while just 25 percent use an outside agency or consultant. Twenty percent use a measurement vendor or supplier. Some use in-house proprietary tools, while others mentioned options such as Harvest, Cision, Vocus, and Meltwater.

One respondent spoke for many agencies: “Most of our clients don’t have the budget to use an outside vendor and don’t have the know-how to do the measurement themselves.”

Of those who expressed dissatisfaction, 64 percent agreed with the response: “We’re only able to measure outputs, not outcomes.”

Paine is skeptical. “It’s not that they aren’t able to,” she says, “it’s that they can’t get their hands around what the real output is.”

Tools may be a bigger problem. A combined total of 86 percent stated that they don’t know which tools to use or don’t like the tools available.

Many respondents mentioned budget constraints. One didn’t like the tools the parent company has chosen, and another commented, “Need to link outcomes to tangible business results.”

What’s working well

Of those who are satisfied, the benefits of measurement were clear. About 68 percent answered, “It tells us what is and isn’t working.” A close second—”We can determine how effectively our efforts met our objectives”—drew 67 percent.

Sixty-six percent said they can make decisions based on, or informed by, data.

Countering the notion that the small fries can’t measure, one Midwestern marketing and communications officer for a public park district selected all three of those options, along with “Metrics makes it easier to persuade senior execs to do what we need” (which drew 51 percent in our survey).

The survey also revealed that most respondents are modest (or perhaps realistic) about their metrics aptitude: 58 percent described themselves as “intermediate.” Only 6 percent feel theirs is a well-run machine; 36 percent saw themselves as beginners.

The numbers provide business insights, according to Mike Wilken, survey respondent and public relations manager for C.H. Robinson Worldwide in Eden Prairie, Minn. He ranks his measurement skills as intermediate.

“We have access to hundreds of numbers and figures, and we’ve been able to drill down to what we think are some of the more important ones,” Wilken says. “However, as we look one to two years down the road, it’s about changing those numbers into additional opportunities. Similar to social media, [we’re] moving away from number of followers to actual conversations.”

Confidence in ROI

Our question about ROI allowed three answers: yes, no, and “sort of.” This last option drew the largest number of votes.

Thirty-nine percent selected, “Sort of. I understand our company’s ROI standard, but it may differ from others,” while 36 percent preferred the answer, “No, everyone defines it differently. It’s confusing.” Just a quarter answered “Yes. It’s an accounting term with only one definition.”

But that 25 percent was enough to make Paine happy.

“I’m so thrilled about that,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Yeah!’ Would I like it to be bigger? Sure. But the fact that that many people agree with that statement is astounding because of how much chatter and B.S. there is on social media and ROI.”

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