What the future of PR measurement will look like

Brands will ditch silos, focus on the customer, and connect results to business goals, Katie Paine says.

“When the people raise their voice, finally realized their choice

Freedom made her sound,

It was a good thing coming down.

When that wall hit that ground, it was a good thing coming down

It was a good thing when they opened up their hearts

Such a good thing to make a new world start

You know it was a good thing to find the courage to let go

Such a good thing when they found the strength to know.

It took me years to build this wall, a house of cards that had to fall,

When that wall hit the ground, it was good thing coming down.”

—”Walls” © 1989, Rick Watson

My friend Rick Watson wrote those lyrics after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but they can apply just as easily today–and not just to the Arab Spring.

The future of measurement is in the dissolution of the walls and silos that have plagued our profession for years. It’s a good thing they’re coming down.

Walls between internal and external communication, digital and traditional, marketing and PR, and qualitative and quantitative metrics fall daily. In today’s environment, customers get far more information from customer service than they do from any press release. People form opinions not from reading traditional or social media, but by influencers who are just as likely to write a column in The Huffington Post as they are to tweet.

The corporate house of cards that has to fall are the silos that for years have separated PR people from customers, internal communications from external, and marketing from PR. This silo-free future will have three key elements:

1. It will be all about the business and the customer.

The silos between PR, marketing, customer service, and internal communication are irrelevant in an era when the customer is in control.

If Walt Mossberg influences your customers, how does it help your program to put up artificial barriers between his traditional media presence in The Wall Street Journal and his social media presence on his blog or Twitter feed?

This is an era when a tweet can make it around the world before your internal email gets through the first round of approvals. Customers listen to other customers long before your sales force or marketing department has a chance to get to them. Never mind that customers today have an infinite ability to filter out messages.

The old-fashioned notion of isolating PR metrics from marketing or business results will be a thing of the past. I so look forward to a day when we banish pie charts that show “share of negative, positive and neutral” from board rooms forever. So what if the chart is 20 percent green? It only matters if you spent $100,000 and that pretty green slice of pie didn’t get any bigger or sell any more products.

The only way PR people will measure their results in the future is if they put them in the context of the business plan. Are you driving traffic, adding people to your marketing universe, shifting perceptions, or making it easier to recruit talent? Instead of asking what tool they should use, future generations of PR pros will ask, “What difference did I make to the business?”

More important, the successful PR pro of the future won’t just look in his press kit for a solution to a problem. He will look at the problem, reach across all aisles and cubicles, and solve it with assistance from marketing, digital, social media, and anyone else that can contribute to the solution.

2. The results will matter, not what you call your metrics.

For years trade media has posed the silly question, “What is more important: quantitative or qualitative data? Outcomes or outputs?”

The reality is you can’t have one without the other. Future successful PR managers will regularly correlate their media outputs with business outcomes. Their reports will similarly combine data and numbers with insight and context.

Future PR pros will no longer be able to hide their heads in the sand to avoid numbers and data. Today, between Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, and more than 250 monitoring and measurement companies in the marketplace, we can’t avoid numbers. However, having access to 100 different metrics is not particularly helpful. Knowing three that will help improve your organizational effectiveness is.

The successful PR pro may be able to run an ANOVA test, but she will certainly need to know how to interpret the data and draw conclusions.

More important, future PR pros will need the skills to know the difference between good and bad data, and what does or doesn’t correlate. They will need to know not just how much, but why. Unless they can compare results with peers, or spot differences in business outcomes between different programs and tactics, their metrics will have no future.

PR pros need to be able to look at their metrics and easily identify the best and worst programs so they can then move resources from the ones that aren’t working to those that are. Without that context, all the pretty charts and data points are meaningless.

3. Geography will become both irrelevant and indispensable.

As traditional geographical borders become less relevant in our social era of “you can take it with you” marketing, the specifics of where you are the moment you receive a message or send a post become increasingly important.

On the one hand, professional communicators need to be more sensitive to culture and language differences than ever before. But those differences are less and less location-based. If we can take media with us wherever we go, we must think less about physical borders and more about cultural ones.

On the other hand, thanks to GPS location-based services in our phones, tablets and laptops, social media marketers already know where you are and where the best results come from. As a result, identifying and measuring geographical reach will become far more important in measurement as different locations will require different types of communications.

As my friend Rick says, make a new world start, and find the courage to let go and the strength to know. I think you’ll find a very good thing coming down.

Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, and publisher of The Measurement Standard newsletter. A version of this article originally appeared on The Buzz Bin.

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