Communication practitioners have long held varying views on how to effectively measure and evaluate the work they do. As an industry, there is great consumption of media monitoring and media analysis, yet seemingly, a lack of hunger (or expertise) for uncovering real meaning.
In my early days in media intelligence, we had a fairly common view of traditional media and what metrics were most important to businesses. Clients were looking for fast, easy, cheap and automated quantitative measures, or if they had the budget, they received qualitative reports, analysed by humans and delivered weeks after the coverage appeared.
But the way, and the pace, at which we earn media has changed and continues to evolve. Once applied to just traditional media, we now see the convergence of online news and social media, influencers and an emphasis on owned, borrowed and paid content. Throw in a global new normal and the comms industry faces an entirely new landscape. And a new challenge.
Research undertaken by the Public Relations Journal in the US aimed to uncover exactly how PR professionals define measurement and evaluation. Twenty interviews were undertaken with practitioners at corporations, agencies, and non-profit organisations, all of varying positions, levels and titles. The group was initially asked how they define measurement and evaluation, and the aim was to understand whether participants focus more on output, outtake, or outcome-level metrics. The study found that the answer varied greatly. As an example, junior professionals talked about analytics, post campaign analysis and results, while the senior executives used terms like value, ROI, investment and reputation.
So, what does this mean for the industry if there is no common view of how to measure media? Is there even a need for a standardised methodology if our ideas of effectiveness are so diverse? Are organisations like AMEC making a difference?
I’d argue, yes, we are headed in the right direction when it comes to the discussions and the practices of moving the industry forward.
According to AMEC (the Association of Measurement and Effectiveness of Communication), impact is defined as ‘the results that are caused, in full or in part, by your communication’. It looks at results such as reputation, organisational change, public or social change. These are just some of the things that matter most to a business and can’t be qualified through simple media analysis. Just because messages land in the media, it doesn’t mean there was an effect on the audience.
A deeper dive through qualitative analysis, market research, external brand and/or perception research, interviews and surveys (to name just a few) can lead us closer to the answer. While earned media hits may look impressive for KPI chasers, business impact can only be captured by assessing and including the entire paid and owned media performance.
AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework can be a powerful resource to start answering some of the questions about making sense of outputs versus outcomes. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a long-time member and Fellow of the global organisation and don’t believe there is another organisation doing as much for our sector as this group.
Supporting this is Australia’s most recognised public relations academic expert, Dr Jim Macnamara, who spoke to me recently about this very topic. And as always, Jim put it perfectly, by reminding practitioners that they should, “Look beyond media. Media are channels of communication – not destinations.
“Media monitoring and analysis can provide some important insights, but the sector has to commit itself to achieving and demonstrating outcomes and impact that align to organisation objectives” he finished.
So, while the industry may not yet be clear on how to apply the idea of demonstrating impact, it is encouraging that our definitions of measurement and evaluation are becoming more aligned. There appears to be a consensus on the new normal.