Inside the Profession PR Training

If You Can’t Measure It, It Doesn’t Count

Just a few decades ago, most workers made “something.” The economy was defined by industrial output, and jobs usually involved manufacturing products, extracting natural resources or handcrafting tangible things. Those types of job still exist today, but we now live in a world in which the “service economy” —  or the increased importance of the service sector, of which public relations is a part — is a much larger economic force.

Of course, public relations professionals produce “things” too. We write plans, conceive ideas and organize and conduct events — but writing plans and generating ideas isn’t really what we do.

When I would ask my University of Maryland students at the start of each semester, “What do public relations professionals actually do?” they eagerly would say things such as, “public relations professionals ‘create buzz.’”  Wrong answer.

Many of us, caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities, don’t always take the time to connect what we do to the larger, organizational goals of a project — or to evaluate our progress toward achieving those goals. The measurement part, though, is critically important:  If you cannot measure what it is you do, the output will have less value and respect in the marketplace. There also will be less willingness to pay for it.

So, what is it that public relations does, exactly?  And, more importantly, what are the results?

I was asked by PRSA to lead a group of experts in examining more closely the issue of what, exactly, public relations does and, more importantly, the results that it generates.  Our objective was to make broad recommendations to public relations professionals regarding metrics and the process of measuring what it is they do.

Thus, my associates and I, working on PRSA’s behalf, have documented measurement approaches that, we believe, will work for most types of project and in a vast array of circumstances. As a public relations professional, you need to start thinking about measurement at the outset any project — so we’re recommending what you should measure, and how you should do it. Ultimately, these recommendations will be available to you as part of PRSA’s resource library. They will also become part of a larger PRSA initiative to link public relations to the achievement of organizational goals.

Now, however, we’re seeking input on our recommendations. This is your opportunity to tell us what you think and offer suggestions for incorporation, before we issue our final set of recommendations. It isn’t just about whether our recommendations are “right,” but whether they can be easily understood and used by public relations practitioners.

So let us know what you think — by the end of September, please — at which point my colleagues and I will assess the feedback and make adjustments.  Speaking of which, I would like to thank each of our team members for their work, all of whom are past or present Chairs of the Institute for Public Relations’ Measurement Commission: Pauline Draper-Watts, current IPR Commission Chair; Katie Paine, KD Paine & Partners; Mark Weiner, Prime Research; and Don Wright, Boston University. We also received great help from the PRSA staff.

Albert Einstein once said “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.”  For public relations professionals, however, you’ll count more if you can measure what you do.

We look forward to receiving your feedback.

Dr. David Rockland is partner and managing director of Ketchum Communications. He is responsible for overseeing the Agency’s research products and services, as well as developing innovative approaches to public relations research and measurement for Ketchum clients around the globe.

About the author

David Rockland


  • Good work on the part of the committee in putting this together. I think I don’t necessarily have a suggestion, but wanted some clarification.

    I was happy to see you recommended benchmarking a company’s reputation. I was surprised to see you recommended every few months, surely it would be better to monitor continuously?

    I’d also like to see more on the topic of comparison with other brands. How measurement across the industry can help a company understand the perception and sentiment towards them.

    Lastly, any chance of detailing the value of sentiment analysis within the recommendations?

    • John – you make some good points; thanks for your input.

      In terms of continuous measurement, of course one should do so with media activity (traditional and social), but in terms of continuous surveying of reputation among various stakeholder groups, I just can’t imagine how a company could afford this unless they make it part of a weekly brand tracker or the like. Certainly part of reputation measurement should include a comparison to other companies both within the industry and by topic area (e.g., environmental leadership), or aspirational (e.g., J&J).

      As we pull the final document together, we’ll take a look at where sentiment analysis might fit.

      Again, many thanks for your input.

  • Hi,
    I actually wrote a blog post about this, titled PR Outcome Measures Need A Reality Check, which gives an indication of my thoughts on the recommendations. I tweeted about it too, and this stirred up a wee bit of buzz.

    As noted in my post, I do think it is a good idea to come up with standards to determining quantifiable results of PR efforts, however, I think to play down clips and social media activity is misguided. Both serve important purposes and are measures of influence. It may be hard to put a hard number on what the measures mean, but they are surely relevant to business outcomes.

    Per my blog post, the recommendations need to pay more attention to social media, period. PR is changing dramatically due to social networks, but the current proposed recommendations do not reflect the real impact. Also missing; the role of search engine optimization as relates to reputation management.

    Basically, the whole online/social aspect of PR needs to be better addressed. As one person to contact for greater insight on the matter I suggest Deirdre Breakenridge, who has written two books, and teaches, about PR 2.0.

  • Good post – and wanted to call out one point. One of the most common problems we see with measurement is a failure to agree on objectives. If the goal is simply to maximize the number of ears and eyeballs receiving your message – rent a blimp, stand on the highway with a sandwich sign, or buy ad space in USA Today. If your goal is to change perceptions about your brand/product/organization, then you need to consider more than just quantitative metrics.

    For example, qualitative measurements need to be taken such as:
    a. How is my organization (and its competition) currently portrayed by the media? (this is benchmarking – or as my granddaddy used to say, “can’t know how far you’ve come until you know where you’re from”)

    b. How is your coverage better/worse/differentiated from the competition?

    c. Which journalists/outlets are most interested in our story?

  • Nathan Richter is right. We (practitioner/client) should begin by agreeing on what behavior we are trying to affect/change. If I want you to just become aware of me, that’s one thing. If I want you engage in a specific interaction (buy something, vote for me, call someone, etc.) then I have a whole different world of measurement possibilities.

  • I’d like to talk to you about this. I am working on a similar effort on behalf of the International Communications Consultants Organisation (ICCO), which I chair, and I have a grant from NYU as well.

    Lou Capozzi

  • As one of the contributors, I may have been a bit remiss in not keeping up with the conversation. One point I’d like to emphasize is the difference between “quantifying business outcomes” and “proving value” as they relate to PR.

    “Proving value” can take many forms depending on the value system of the client organization: it could mean clips, could mean social media, could mean behavior, etc. All told, “value” is subjective.

    “quantifying business outcomes” is not subjective: it represent a measurable contribution or retention of revenue, profits and other assets.

    The previous point about setting measurable objectives is right on point: objectives, like values, can change from organization to organization and from person-to-person within the same organization. You need to know what your client expects and prefers. Business outcomes are constant, commonly defined and are directly related to financial performance.

    While there is more to debate and learn, the profession must unite in our desire to prove that what we believe in our hearts to be true is, in fact, true: PR makes a domonstrable and quantifiable contribution to the overall business performance of our clients.

    How the PR community and our clients choose to use or ignore the emerging body of knowledge supporting PR’s ability to drive business results will continue to be a matter of choice.

    It’s been said that the dinosaurs would be alive today if only they’d predicted the weather. In my opinion, those who take the lead in linking PR with business outcomes will prosper; others will follow; those who ignore the winds of change will be marginalized or worse.

    Thanks for the opportunity to expand on the conversation, even if it’s a little late.

    Mark Weiner
    PRIME Research

  • This is a great start to this important discussion. Nathan Richter and Morgan Lyons raise an important question about accurately identifying the business or organizational purposes. The value of this presentation is that it extends the value of PR beyond the outcome level, i.e. number and quality of messages. However, it seems to be narrowed to only the financial bottom line and isn’t inclusive of the other sustainability indicators that are found in the triple bottom line approach, namely Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Impact. These are probably addressed by the reputation indicator, but I think it needs to be more explicitly articulated. PR can contribute to financial bottom lines, but it is also critical to the CSR and Environmental bottom lines.

    Brad Rawlins
    Brigham Young University

Leave a Comment