Measurement- taking PRide!

Every year, I try to learn a new skill that is relevant to my profession. In 2012 I was ambitious and tackled two- learning how to use Twitter better, and making sure my students really, really understand the importance of what is going on in measurement and evaluation.  The latter is one of those “slow burn” issues that should be taken more seriously, but all too often isn’t.  And yet….we are at a defining moment in the development of public relations and corporate communications.

I’m talkiing about the emergence of the new Valid Metrics Matrix, a way of confronting squarely the PR profession’s previous inability to demonstrate its value in terms that work for the C Suite (that is, the Chief Executives, Chief Finance Officers, Chief Operating Officers, etc). Having worked most of my professional life in those rarefied circles, speaking business objectives in language that a board understands has always been key to getting buy-in to the campaigns I was running. 

So, I greeted the VMM with open arms and a “hallelujah, about bloody time, too”.  Finally, a way to demonstrate just what impact a good PR campaign can have!

The emergence of a new paradigm in any academic and practitioner community should be a time for debate and discussion. I have been surprised, however, by the lack of enthusiasm about the VMM from the world of agency PR. Maybe that’s because clients don’t understand anything other than the old AVE metric. Or maybe the stranglehold of media relations means that clients still count the value of their PR retainer fees by the number of cuttings, web click throughs, likes, etc. Whatever the case, it is surprising to me just how long it is taking for the VMM to penetrate into use.

So, when the CIPR PRide Awards rolled around last week, I was delighted that one of my Masters student agency teams submitted an application on behalf of their client, Southampton Solent University, for a campaign called “Love Your Bins”- an unsexy topic that actually needed addressiing if community relations between the university and the student population were to be improved.

That their campaign would win a gold award for community relations was never (in my mind anyway) a doubt.  But what made me dance a little jig and strike a Usain Bolt pose was when the CIPR Wessex judges decided to award their campaign a gold prize for best use of measurement. And this award is based on a pool of every entry made to the prize committee, across 25 categories. So, my MA students were pitted against big agencies, and large inhouse departments, and yet managed to beat them all. Why? Because they used the VMM. 

Want to see the campaign and what the judges said? Take a look. Let’s hope that those agencies and clients that actually want to get results from their PR will start taking the VMM seriously. I am delighted that the CIPR is doing just that.

All Corporate communication is unethical

Ok, now that I have your attention, let me explain. If you are a PR student, it is likely that somewhere along the line you have been told about Grunig & Grunig’s Excellence Theory of PR, which suggests that PR practitioners should aspire to achieve “two-way symmetrical communication with stakeholders”.  And, in its later iterations, the Excellence Theory suggests that if corporate communication is not symmetric, then it is by definition unethical.  Symmetry, by the way, means “equally balanced”.

That idea has been bugging me for years -and now I’ve decided to call time on this idea.  Practitioners have to make decisions, set priorities, work with limited budgets, and even more limited attention spans of senior management. Everyone KNOWS that you focus your efforts on those stakeholders that matter. And, that even within a single stakeholder group, you are not “evenly balanced” in your communication. Not all media within the media stakeholder group are treated the same. Not every employee is communicated with on an equal basis often for legal reasons, as well as practical ones.

The other thing wrong with the theory is that it implies that stakeholders are equally interested in communicating with the company as the company is interested in communicating with them. And that is just plain lunacy. Few stakeholders care equally about the companies with whom they interact. Even Greenpeace targets its efforts on chocolate production to those manufacturers with the biggest production and customer base. If you are small and niche, you are off their radar. So, not all stakeholders care as much about you as you do about them, if you are a corporate communicator. In fact, far from being symmetric, it’s sometimes hard to get them to pay attention at all.

In my view the symmetric communication idea is a complete fallacy. No two people, let along stakeholder groups, have an identical or equally balanced investment in the conversation, even when it is two-way. So, let’s put this lame duck theory to bed. What matters is not “symmetry”, but rather” effectiveness”. So, repeat after me- “ethical communication is NOT about symmetry”….

Social media metrics re-visited

It’s happening again….The reason why I teach is to have an excuse to learn, and marking my students’ media communication projects has set me off on a steep learning curve.  Over the past week, I’ve learned more about social media analytics than I ever thought possible. Thanks to my students, I’ve learned about bounce, about stickiness, about curation  and about how to apply the new Valid Metrics Matrix to social media campaign evaluation.

But…interestingly, it is surprising that in all the social media stuff out there about social media that too few people talk about whether social media driven PR campaigns are actually changing behaviour in the real world.   And that links back to proving PR’s credentials in the boardroom, proving return on investment, demonstrating the strategic value of the latest gadget in the toy box.

So, I thought about whether any social media campaigns that I have been on the receiving end of have actually led me to part with real money.  And, to my surprise, the two that actually have produced that all important revenue generating moment came to me in an extremely old fashioned, non-trendy way- by email. 

So, how many of you have ever clicked through on an advert that sits alongside the Facebook page, or a sponsored link on Google, and even if you have, did you actually spend some money online as a result?   Shouldn’t PR be measured on its impact on the bottom line?  For more interesting insight on the subject, check out Craig Pearce’s excellent blog on the subject.