Forget it! It’s Too Hard To Measure

    August 25, 2003

Oh, I don’t know. I feel pretty good about the way some of us measure public relations results. I mean how can you measure the results of an activity more accurately than when you clearly achieve the goal you set at the beginning of that activity?

In my opinion, you can’t. It’s pure success when you meet that goal.

The same goes double for public relations. The client/employer wants our help in altering negative perceptions among key audiences which almost always change behaviors in a way that helps him or her get to where they want to be.

So why are we uniquely qualified to do that job?

Because everything we do is based on the realities that people act on their perception of the facts and that we can do something about those perceptions. When public relations activity successfully creates, changes or reinforces that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to-desired-action those people whose behaviors affect the organization, the public relations effort is a success.

But before we follow that client/employer on his or her way to that kind of successful public relations end game, a few words about the measurement challenge itself.

Unfortunately, measurement is a large challenge and one that stands between us and development of that conclusive indicator showing that a public relations investment has been applied wisely.

Unfortunately, the usual public relations performance measurement methods are subjective and open to wide interpretation because we do not have widely accepted public relations measurement standards.

Instead, in evaluating public relations performance now, we must use highly subjective, very limited, borderline- invalid and only partially applicable performance judgements. Among them, inquiry generation, story content analysis, gross impressions, and even equivalent advertising value.

It’s incredible when you think about it.

Here we are, part and parcel of America’s multi-trillion dollar industrial, educational and organizational collossus and, yet, we cannot demonstrate conclusively – that’s CONCLUSIVELY – that we achieved our public relations program’s behavioral goal.

Why? Because, as of today, it costs WAY too much public opinion survey money to demonstrate – again, conclusively – that we achieved the public relations perception and behavioral goal set at the beginning of the program. In many cases, the opinion research costs more than the entire underlying public relations program. Thus, it’s almost always set aside in favor of “winging it.”

What are we to do?

This article highlights what many professionals already know. We need this final step in the public relations problem solving sequence, and we need it badly.

What can be done? I like NASA’s traditional approach. When money is especially short, these dedicated people repeatedly find another way around the problem using an amazing mix of technology innovation, operational creativity and raw determination.

So here, in the year 2003, why cannot the best minds in the fields of public relations, sociology, psychology and opinion gathering attack the challenge of PROVING CONCLUSIVELY that a given public relations campaign has – or has not – changed target audience behaviors precisely as planned at the beginning of the program, and do so without bankrupting its participants?

Until an answer to that question presents itself, we have little choice but to track perceptions among key audiences the best way we can; monitor follow-on behaviors; then create, change or reinforce that opinion by reaching, persuading and moving-to -desired-action those people whose behaviors effect the organization.

The missing ingredient will continue to be affordable public opinion research.

Bob Kelly counsels, writes and speaks to business, non-profit and
association managers about using the fundamental premise of public
relations to achieve their operating objectives. He has been DPR,
Pepsi-Cola Co.; AGM-PR, Texaco Inc.; VP-PR, Olin Corp.; VP-PR,
Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; director of communi-
cations, U.S. Department of the Interior, and deputy assistant press
secretary, The White House. He holds a bachelor of science degree
from Columbia University, major in public relations. Visit: