I had an interesting chat yesterday with Lou Capozzi, APR, Fellow PRSA.
Many of you may know Lou from his days as chairman emeritus of Publicis Public Relations and Corporate Communications Group, or as chairman and CEO of MS&L Worldwide. These days, Lou maintains an honorary role as MS&L senior counselor, and is serving as an adjunct instructor in the Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations Department of New York University (NYU) School of Continuing and Professional Studies. He’s also President of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) Executive Committee.
The subject of our conversation was public relations measurement and evaluation. Lou heard that PRSA had recently engaged Dr. David Rockland of Ketchum 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. The objective of this effort is to make broad recommendations to public relations professionals regarding metrics and the process of measuring what it is they do.
Last month, working on PRSA’s behalf, Dr. Rockland and his team posted a “straw man” presentation that contained documented measurement approaches which, the task force believes, will work for most types of project and in a vast array of circumstances. The task force is currently collecting and synthesizing industry comment, before issuing its final set of recommendations.
Lou agreed that this is the one area where the public relations industry continues to lag other marketing and communications disciplines. The importance of a targeted industry push in this regard clearly cannot be understated, as Lou called PRSA’s effort “one of the most exciting and smartest things” that PRSA has ever done.
“The current state of measurement in public relations goes something like this,” he said. “Public relations professionals are not connecting with the marketers, nor is public relations being evaluated like any of the other communications tools they are using. As a profession, we need to start talking to the brand managers in a language they understand, using metrics they’re familiar with.”
The lack of progress on measurement, Lou feels, goes beyond the typical right brain/left brain arguments, which suggest that public relations practitioners struggle with all things mathematical, financial and analytical. It starts with something as basic as a lack of credible benchmarks.
“The public relations industry has no normative data that would allow us to say that a program is better or worse than the industry average,” he says. “Advertising agencies have years and years worth of this type of data on which to base their evaluations.”
We agreed that there is a great opportunity for PRSA to collaborate with Lou on research he is undertaking at NYU which, like PRSA’s own attempts, is intended to help the public relations industry solve its measurement conundrum.
Currently, he is conducting a detailed analysis of secondary data, examining all the various measurement methodologies currently being employed across the industry. Lou’s examining agency, client and vendor models; advertising agency models; and what public relation industry associations in other parts of the world are doing. He’s also cooperating with ICCO, the Arthur W. Page Society and Proctor & Gamble, long considered one of the corporate leaders in assessing the impact of its public relations programs. Finally, he’s interviewing industry thought leaders and convening a panel of experts to gain their outside perspective.
For Lou, finding a way to consistently, efficiently and effectively evaluate marketing public relations programs — programs that “sell” — is the low-hanging fruit.
“This is where the most money in being spent on public relations, and where brand managers are evaluating their marketing mixes most carefully,” he says.
In his opinion, it will be harder to develop standardized ways to evaluate the impact of programs such as “corporate reputation,” where the intangibles are much greater.
“How do you assess the value of public relations advice that essentially says, ‘Do nothing?’”
One thing’s for sure, we’re all more focused on value than ever before. PRSA is working to help our members convey the value of public relations — something we have in common with industry leaders like Lou Capozzi.
William M. Murray, CAE, is PRSA’s president and chief operating officer.