The business value of PR measurement and ongoing standardization efforts were just two topics covered as industry leaders joined Gideon Fidelzeid in New York for this BurrellesLuce-hosted roundtable.
Johna Burke, SVP, BurrellesLuce
Heidi D'Agostino, head of insights and research, Ogilvy Public Relations
Geoff Day, director of communications, Mercedes-Benz
Amy Gershkoff, global director of analytics, Burson-Marsteller
Laura Howe, VP of PR, American Red Cross
Molly McKenna Jandrain, director of PR, McDonald's
Tim Marklein, practice leader, technology and analytics, W2O Group
Frank Ovaitt, president and CEO, Institute for Public Relations
Eve Stevens, VP, Insight & Analytics, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
Mark Weiner, CEO, Prime Research
Gideon Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Discuss the growing importance of primary research in conceptualizing PR programs.
Johna Burke (BurrellesLuce): Without primary research and establishing that initial benchmark, people don't know the trends. They don't know if they're growing or diminishing in voice, in perception, in the realities of everything they're trying to measure.
So many times, we use information as a post-view instead of a preview, which would help us get a better understanding and set solid goals against which we would be able to measure.
So many people are also using social media as that initial survey or using it to replace some of that other primary research. That's a challenge because it is just a sampling of a sampling and there are a lot of squeaky wheels who don't necessarily speak on behalf of the overall brand.
Heidi D'Agostino (Ogilvy Public Relations): The media and consumer environments are changing so rapidly, you can't assume you know everything because of the past. You always have to take a gut check of where you are and use that to fuel and refine your programs before moving them forward.
Eve Stevens (Waggener Edstrom Worldwide): There is a growing nearness of customers to companies. Primary research lets you have that direct lens with the customer more frequently and more transparently.
Frank Ovaitt (Institute for Public Relations): If you have a speedometer, odometer, and compass in your car, you can gauge its progress. But if you're going nowhere with no plan to get there, it doesn't matter a whole lot.
Several have spoken of primary research as what you do as original research. That's a very expensive thing to do if you haven't already tapped existing knowledge, which is never free, but never as expensive as doing your own primary research. You need to go into your primary research with a strong hypothesis about what you're trying to show or accomplish that will give you a starting point for directing your PR program.
Geoff Day (Mercedes-Benz): We ask our customers something 5 million times a year, so there's a lot of information we already have in terms of primary research. My job is to take that and map it on top of some of the things I'm doing uniquely from a PR perceptive. That gives you a much better picture.
Amy Gershkoff (Burson-Marsteller): You used to do primary research, run a campaign, and measured what happened after. What's exciting now is the ability to do real-time measurement and research so that you can optimize your messaging in real time and integrate that research throughout the entire campaign, not just before and after.
Mark Weiner (Prime Research): The glue that brings together PR and other forms of marketing and communications is the customer. And primary research in the form of surveys provides guidance to every communicator throughout the organization about which vehicles have the greatest credibility and potential impact among our target audience. Surveys and, to a degree, media analysis enable a greater coherence and integration throughout the organization, not just within communications.
Tim Marklein (W2O Group): Primary research is crucial because you can't get to stakeholder attitudes and perceptions and really understand what's impacting their behavior without that analysis. However, the usage of primary research is not increasing in PR for a couple of reasons.
One, the data is not real time. So doing a once- or twice-a-year survey doesn't necessarily give you the same richness of insight as real-time analytics, which are becoming more popular.
Second, because social media data is so prevalent, people are using that as a barometer for what the public thinks. However, it's not reflective of the total conversation people are having.
A third challenge is that PR is not increasing budget behind research. The savvier ones are doing a better job of leveraging the research that's already done, but every PR person needs to do that. They also must insert themselves earlier into the process to make sure the right questions are being asked and that they're getting the insights they need to drive the real-time dynamic conversation and not just the marketing program.
Day (Mercedes-Benz): We're having a conversation about measurement like it's what every PR department does across America, but they don't. I probably spend about half of a cent of my entire budget on measurement and I don't think that's enough, but that's probably ten times more than a lot of people are spending.
Stevens (WE): A lot more clients are asking for that research because they, all of a sudden, are reawakening to the customer. It's as if there's this reemergence of needing that direct tap into that vein.
D'Agostino (Ogilvy): Companies are realizing the power customers have today. Customers are actually empowered to connect with brands, to drive brands. The conversations companies have had with consumers in the past, where they just track their awareness and their favorability, they now understand that they must evaluate the influence of their average consumer.
Day (Mercedes-Benz): Customers never went anywhere, they just have a voice now. And we can hear it and measure it.
Laura Howe (American Red Cross): Primary research gives us a picture over time of what people think of our organization. If you can couple that with real-time data, you can get a very – or at least somewhat – complete picture of the public opinion landscape.
Marklein (W2O): PR has always seen that it's a real-time conversation and that storytelling is critical, but marketing has had more of a programatic approach to driving it.
A big part of what we do is real-time analytics. A couple of years ago, the market research groups within our client base were kind of ignoring what we were doing. Now they're saying, “OK, we need to internalize and embrace what you're doing and bring that into the market research discipline more.”
Day (Mercedes-Benz): That's funny. Years ago, I had a VP of marketing who reminded me that it's marketing that owns the customer conversation. And now they're finding out just how little they actually owned it and how that conversation has been led more by PR departments.
Weiner (Prime): One of the great opportunities through primary research is rediscovering who the customer really is, which messages they consider to be compelling and credible for your organization, and which media channels or forms of communication are most likely to have an impact. And while we're talking about primary research as a tracking tool, it's also irreplaceable as a formative intelligence tool in planning and conceptualizing programs from the beginning so that resources are spent more wisely over time.
Gershkoff (Burson): The tools available for use in research have changed pretty dramatically. It's not limited to those surveys you can do a few times a year. You can now do Web panels to look at your traffic. That's a form of data and research that can give you insight into what customers are thinking and whether your messages and stories are resonating.
Ovaitt (IPR): If you look at the GAP Studies by USC Annenberg, the amount people are spending on research and measurement has seen a steady march up. Many people still do nothing, but there is pretty good evidence that people are starting to understand that to be effective in PR, you have to do your research and measurement.
D'Agostino (Ogilvy): We've had clients ask us to do primary research because they want to understand whether the conversation that's happening in social media is actually generating traction among the general population, or even opinion elites or business elites. We need to understand what drives that conversation and how to best make recommendations on how to deal with it.
Howe (Red Cross): Social media is the bright shiny object and people think that's where the conversation is happening, but a lot of research can show you that there are multiple places where conversations and engagement can happen.
Stevens (WE): That's where I'm seeing clients starting to go. This is very nascent, but I'm seeing that layering and the notion that, “OK, social isn't everything and media still exists to layer and be able to see the entirety of the prism.”
Marklein (W2O): Different research methodologies have tended to live in silos. Traditional media analysis, social media and monitoring, Web and search traffic, and market research were all in different places.
Our big opportunity is to leverage those different research methodologies across disciplines and get out of these silos that have limited our ability to get to the true insight needed to drive programs.
Molly McKenna Jandrain (McDonald's): We're trying to be more creative in our research because management is really seeing the value of doing it from the beginning. We've definitely used it to adjust our tone and voice and to be more authentic in our communication. It's really making some traction.
Burke (BurrellesLuce): It's all about targeting your audience. Those getting their news from Facebook might not be the audience that can afford a luxury brand. So understanding where those voices are is important. It's important to think generationally about whether these people are your future customers and how they're going to evolve and grow.
Numerous PR programs for the American Red Cross, McDonald's, and Mercedes-Benz have been bolstered by measurement, including examples such as these:
In June, the American Red Cross launched its First Aid app. Its primary goal was to drive a high number of downloads in the first few days post-launch and then maintain a steady flow in succeeding weeks.
American Red Cross
“In cross-referencing daily earned media volume with daily app downloads, we found a spike in the latter when there were major broadcast hits or online placements,” says Laura Howe, VP of PR.
The app was downloaded more than 600,000 times in its first six weeks. Analyzing media metrics behind the launch, adds Howe, has provided valuable insight into how to increase the app's reach.
In launching Chicken McBites this January, McDonald's sought to stay relevant among Millennials. Key tactics included a Hollywood-style launch party and a bite-sized video project that used crowdsourcing to create shareable online entertainment.
By tracking views and engagement, McDonald's identified which videos performed best and shifted PR plans accordingly. More than 256 million media impressions were generated, 95% positive or neutral in tone. The videos received 245,000-plus views and had a 20.28% social engagement rate – 15 points above average. In the four-week launch period, there was a 6% lift in overall chicken sales.
Relationships with reporters are vital in the luxury-car market. However, in recent years, the identity of “key” media influencers has changed. Measurement has allowed Geoff Day, communications director at Mercedes-Benz, to not only recognize and cultivate relationships with new contacts, but also learn that some journalists who have long been considered vital have actually lost some sway.
“By using our measurement tools, we have radically recast the landscape for which influencers we work with in the traditional and social media communities,” notes Day. “This allows us to focus our messages better, but also maximize the return on our PR investment.”
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): How much is media analysis impacting business decisions?
Weiner (Prime): The work we're doing now for clients through traditional and social media analysis is enabling us to inform much bigger business decision-making, which ought to make PR people really happy.
Marklein (W2O): Media analysis and media intelligence has gone from something you do once a quarter to something you do every day, every week, every month. If there's a crisis, you're doing it every minute, every hour. The impact of that is so huge because decisions at companies are made at least weekly and monthly. For certain situations, you need that data on a daily or hourly basis. The change in the timing and ability to measure has really made an impact because it's fitting within the cycles of the decisions clients are making.
Day (Mercedes-Benz): We make decisions on a daily basis, but with some of the research we now have in real time and some of the trending research, we're making better quality decisions about where budgets should be spent, about our messaging, about the audiences we're talking to.
Stevens (WE): Businesses are trying to edge away from using it as an indicator of business impact and wanting something more. That layering of saying, “This is the media impact, this is the audience impact, and this is the business impact.” I see clients wanting to go to that, but from an intelligence point of view and an analytics point of view.
Weiner (Prime): One form of business-outcome measurement is marketing mix modeling. It is a way of incorporating lots of different streams of data to understand better where sales revenue originates in terms of the relative impact of different marketing elements. For the reasons that prevent other forms of research from delivering timely continuous streams of data about what kind of information is appearing at marketplace, media analysis works very well to represent what's happening culturally throughout the marketplace in ways that, traditionally anyway, surveys haven't been able to do. Media analysis is able to show the degree to which PR contributes.
D'Agostino (Ogilvy): It's not always, “I placed this ad and I got a sale. This story ran on the front page of The New York Times and my sales increased by this much.” It's the ability to show that there's a relationship between all of these different marketing disciplines. It's not always direct, but we can show a relationship.
Day (Mercedes-Benz): For me, it's not just about a sale. It's about brand loyalty. Media evaluation is still a great way of showing how loyal customers are.
Jandrain (McDonald's): We're all about brand reputation because we're in a reputation economy. That's what drives people to make purchasing decisions. It's not just about a product. This notion of research and how it's impacting the perceptions of the brand and how we can better use it is so relevant.
We don't have a knee-jerk reaction of seeing a big spike of negative media and immediately making a business decision to shift that. We look at long-term trends, tone, and sentiment and think about how we can change the way we're positioning something or change the way we do something from a business perspective.
Gershkoff (Burson): An interesting barrier to connecting media analysis and measurement to business outcomes is that often marketing, communications, PR are the only parts of the C-suite looking backwards in the analysis. To solidify that link between media and marketing and PR in business outcomes, we need to engage in less retrospective modeling and more predictive modeling, in less backward-looking measurement and more forward-looking business intelligence.
Marklein (W2O): Because of that real-time analytics focus, people are using the data to do something they didn't used to do in communications – test and measure.
A very simple example: We took over a client's Twitter handle. They asked us how many Tweets they should do a day. For one week, we did five a day. The next week, we did 10 a day. The next week, we did 15 a day. We looked at the metrics to see what was working and what wasn't, which led to new questions about how many of those Tweets should be engagement oriented versus promotion oriented, but we could do that on a day-to-day basis.
Howe (Red Cross): Measurement is forcing PR pros to be much more nimble. You can see whether a message is working and you can change that message almost on the fly and in very real time. The key will be getting the business decision-makers in your organization to catch up and be as nimble as you can be with the message.
Marklein (W2O): In this battle between marketing and PR, one of PR's disadvantages is its lack of historical use of data and measurement. Our challenge as an industry is to use the data better than anybody else because our tools to be able to impact the market are actually better than a lot of the other disciplines.
Value or vanity
Fidelzeid (PRWeek): Many organizations are really focused on qualitative measurement, but “vanity” metrics are still prevalent in informing PR programs. Is there still a place for the latter?
Ovaitt (IPR): Before the term “vanity” metrics, we used the term “boxcar numbers.” My experience has been those never go away. Ideally, you'll find more intelligent ways to get beneath that, but the vanity metrics will still be there. And they are better than nothing because at least it gives you the opportunity to learn and go deeper.
Burke (BurrellesLuce): So many times, people discount some of the traditional media, but that independent endorsement is valuable from someone who doesn't have a horse in the race but is simply looking out for readers. Understanding what's that first pebble that causes that ripple effect is incredibly powerful in really understanding the impetus of the story.
When we look at vanity metrics, it's because everybody is seduced by the easy to capture. And in PR, we do feel that mounting pressure of marketing being able to synthesize and aggregate the data that we're more touchy feely about.
Is something better than nothing? Sometimes yes, but sometimes nothing is preferable because it's better to say you don't understand the answer to what I think your question is, as opposed to throwing that information at something to not identify a solution-based orientation. That's where PR struggles with credibility, it struggles with that voice because it doesn't matter how many things you're slicing and dicing. If at the end of the day, there isn't enough pie for everybody who wants to eat, you have a problem.
You need to understand where are those impact points and how do you touch them. Those trends and correlations are incredibly powerful as predictors. If none of us studied history, it would make it a lot harder for us to understand what's coming down the tracks. It's better to strive for something that's accurate, qualitative, and meaningful and use that to push forward and tell a story, as opposed to something that is shallow and easy to grab.
Weiner (Prime): This notion of vanity metrics is really under the control of the executives to whom PR people report and how they define value. And the challenge is enhanced because values change not just from one organization to the next, but from one person to another within an organization. So understanding the value system, helping executives recognize the difference between a vanity metric and a more meaningful metric is a responsibility we have. At the end of the day, though, it's their definition of value that we must incorporate into our own.
Marklein (W2O): This is a consultative challenge we must step up to. If we think there are bad metrics being used, we have to be consultants in that dialogue. And picking a few vanity metrics that tend to be used, such as AVEs, number of fans, and number of followers, they're not invalid, but are only meaningful up to a point. And a PR pro needs to know how they can be used, have the conversation so they don't get used the wrong way, and show the better ways to be able to measure the value.
Stevens (WE): We've gotten more sophisticated about adding quality to the conversation. And we're already moving beyond pure tone to opinion and recommendation. Measuring the development of advocacy and evangelism while adding in the breadth and depth is something I've seen us start doing more.
Day (Mercedes-Benz): A PR pro's job is not just taking a blanket piece of research and dropping it on the CEO's table. It's shaping all of the measurement you have and creating a story that tells a good picture of where you are and where you're going.
Gershkoff (Burson): Any one metric, no matter how accurate, is only one piece of data. To tell a story, we must knit together multiple pieces of data to provide that context that gives us full information about what the data means.
D'Agostino (Ogilvy): It's only a vanity metric if you don't put it in context and back it up with other intelligence. There isn't anything wrong with the numbers themselves. It's about telling a reliable and consistent story and filling the gaps.
Howe (Red Cross): Getting into the minds of the people who are asking for those metrics is very important. I can go to one area of my organization and that answer will be very different than if I go to the fundraising arm. This is why we need industry standards on measurement. We would be able to enter those conversations and instead of having to negotiate and guess what people want out of metrics, we'd have industry standards that would present a defining point for conversations within our own organizations.
Weiner (Prime): Non-PR executives demand measurement, but don't know enough about PR to make any suggestions. PR people know they need to measure, but don't know enough about research to help define the conversations. There's this dance that happens where basically nobody is making any progress. But through standardization, you start to have a more well-balanced conversation about what we should be doing.