For years communication professionals have been debating the merit of adopting measurement and evaluation in the communication industry. Metrics have been discussed and dismissed, rediscussed and re-dismissed, and not until recently has a quality solution been arrived at. This is despite there being an ever-present argument that a lack of an approved approach to measurement puts a big question mark over the credibility of strategic communication services and its value.
The development of the “Barcelona Principles” at the 2nd European Annual AMEC (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) Summit has been recognised as a landmark moment in the history and progression of PR measurement and evaluation. There, senior communication professionals and measurement experts decided on guidelines which were to form the foundation of best practice in this space, becoming the first ever framework for global measurement standards in public relations.
In the last two years, there has been an increased acceptance and focus on PR measurement and evaluation, however, there has been no real action. Recently, the conversation has shifted from discussing ‘principles’ to a call for action and implementation. Now the industry has well and truly disregarded Advertising Value Equivalency (AVE) as an appropriate method of measurement, and in doing so, has severed the perception that measurement practices were more applicable to consumer and marketing communication. Measurement and evaluation relevance is now being recognised in other communication related disciplines including corporate communication, crisis and issues management and investor relations. The 2013 Annual AMEC Summit in Madrid with the theme “Unlocking Business Performance – Communications Research and Analytics in Action” was right on point in this regard.
AMEC has been leading the global charge on PR measurement working with communications industries around the world to develop best practice frameworks and standards. In Australia, working in conjunction with AMEC, the PRIA Measurement and Evaluation Committee has drafted a set of guidelines and has proposed an Australian PR Evaluation Model to be advocated by the Australian communication industry. These tangible measurement standards and frameworks enable the proper use of metrics and evidence-based research, and have greater focus on outcomes rather than outputs. This approach generates strategic questions to be asked such as ‘what does this mean for our organisation?’, ‘how has communication contributed to the broader corporate strategy?’ or ‘did business results shift as a result of communication objectives?’ The PRIA’s guidelines essentially mirror AMEC’s approach and are a comprehensive starting point for Australian communication professionals to adopt, adapt and rollout as a mandatory part of the communication service offering.
Why has the measurement and evaluation debate rapidly ascended as a hot topic of discussion within the industry in recent time? The answer is varied and complex, as it is a response to the changing landscape of real-time communication. There has been a global shift in both terminology and approach, from public relations agencies to strategic communication firms who aim to provide targeted, less media focused communication services to corporate organisations. If the real purpose of public relations is about influencing through communication, then communication practitioners need to obtain a seat at the executive table, and lean in. If communication practitioners are to remain seated amongst the C-Suite and, alongside other advisors (lawyers, bankers, accountants etc.) who are all already accountable to measurable industry standards, then adoption and implementation of measurement and evaluation is critical. There are many benefits to be gained. Most importantly, measurement and evaluation is only going to assist in building trusted client relationships and credibility as a value-add industry which can prove how communication can drive business performance and objectives.