Measurement Myths, Misconceptions, Misfires

Having researched the topic extensively for a masters thesis; having been in the biz for a couple of years; having sat across the table talking about measurement with senior practitioners; having attended numerous conferences (speaking at several); having observed superiors mentors and industry gurus–this measurement proponent and promulgator has noticed a series of fairly common challenges, concerns, myths, misconceptions and perceived barriers that practitioners most frequently cite as impediments to the mass adoption of communications measurement.  In my travels, I’ve heard phrases like “measuring PR is a bit like catching water with a fork” or “measuring a bucket full of eels.”   

So here now, from the home office in Toronto, are the 15 most commonly-cited (but not insurmountable) measurement myths and misconceptions and barriers: 

1.        Senior management misunderstanding of and/or resistance to measurement

2.        PR practitioners’ worry that measurement will show the bad as well as the good

3.        Measurement intertia: accommodating, disentangling, reversing legacy measurement methods (good or bad)and momentum

4.        Territoriality:  research is typically the exclusive domain of marketing

5.        Immeasurable and unrealistic objectives:  the good, the bad and the buzzy

6.        Too simplistic a view of communications theory and what is realistically achievable

7.        Lack of holistic, macro view of the communications function

8.        Sourcing data: appropriate format, volume and duration of, frequency of and what to do with it

9.        Establishing and maintaining an ongoing database

10.      Standardization across organization(s), among external agencies (and a disturbing call for it across the industry)

11.      Competition for budget with other disciplines

12.      Misconceptions to do with cost

13.      Time and expertise: PR practitioners’ research orientations and skill sets (they shouldn’t necessarily be expected to do their own dental work)

14.      Benefits of measurement are generally long term, demand for data and results often short term

15.      Perception of the challenge in separating out marketing impact 

Few would disagree, I suspect, that the profession has been allowed to stand on the ‘we are about words (and art) not numbers (a management science) for too long.  PR is best considered as the right combination of both.  Public Relations is a comparatively young, vastly under (but increasingly) theorized profession that pines for professional legitimacy (at least optically as we already know we deserve it) and either securing or maintaining our seat at the C-suite table.  Certainly research and measurement is not the only means to achieving this end, but it can and will continue to play a critical role. 

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4 responses to “Measurement Myths, Misconceptions, Misfires

  1. I like this list, but have to take issue with the “relatively young” statement. Back in 1946 my father gave a speech before the precursor to the PRSA conference challenging them to solve the “measurement dilemma.” Our lack of embracing of measurement has nothing to do with the length of time we’ve been trying to do it, and everything to do with your list of excuses listed here. It is all about the fact that measurement is almost never at the top of anyone’s to do list. Until top management starts to demand data on which to base decisions rather than the gut instinct it will remain at the bottom of the priority list.

  2. I agree with the list, and will use it to train my sales team on how to overcome the standard objections, but I would argue that the reason more people don’t take advantage of the tools is that they aren’t being asked to make decisions on hard data. Its still a “gut feeling” king of discipline and everyone believes that their gut feelings are enough. My father, then managing editor of Fortune, gave a speech challenging PR people to mesure their results. 60 years later, we have tools he couldn’t have imagined. But not nearly enough people using them.

  3. A really interesting list and certainly forming a to-do list for PR and measurement people to sort. I think that the industry is increasingly demanding direct education in PR and research and the hope is that PR’s dominant coalition will also demand (via their own edication) that PR be measurable. Then hopefully we may see some of objections fall away.

  4. Great list.

    The challenges PR professionals face in relation to measurements are compounded by the online revolution.

    In pre-internet times the demand for PR measurements was (allegedly) much less than today. At the same time the amounts of relevant and precise data were less (because of cost and difficulties in collecting the data).

    Today, the demand for PR measurement is sharply up. At the same time, the Internet has made important (but complex) types of data easily available, enabling us to make much more precise models of mind share, indirect influence and user behaviour.

    This combination (of increased measurement demand and more precise/complex data types) are seen as many PR professionals as a “perfect storm” that stretches the “science demand” put on them (far) beyond what they could have envisioned when they entered the profession.

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