There’s an Easier Way to Create Standards: Conform

The latest focal point of measurement fanatics has been standardization. Most recently public relations professionals convened in Lisbon for AMEC (The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) to set standards for measuring PR and social media.

While I applaud their efforts, and they were able to make some important steps toward standardization, it seems the whole industry is going at this problem from the completely wrong direction.

The approach seems to be to try to find standard, but unique methods to measure PR and its value.

Standardization is most certainly needed to help more PR practitioners measure effectively and prove their worth. Also, if everyone is on the same page, comparisons and indices will be easier and more insightful. (If I tell you my campaign drew 2 million impressions and you say your program drew more than $6 million using AVE, who did a better job?)

But why are we searching for unique methods and metrics?

The traditional business world has been measuring its value throughout its history. My boss brought up a good point during a chat we had during my first week: why try to create all new measures when you can build off the system already in place?

It only seems to make sense to conform PR measures to standards already in place for the business world. I know conformity is usually such a negative word, but it shouldn’t be in this case.

Five Reasons to Conform to Business Metrics:

  1. Methods of measurement are built in. One of the biggest advantages to taking on metrics from the business world would be the ability to use their methodology as well. They already know how to measure ROI (it’s still not easy), and you could likely take a page out of their book instead of trying to reinvent the wheel with every new metric.
  2. Comparisons will be a broader tool. Think about how great it could be if you were able to use the same metrics to compare your PR initiative to the latest ad campaign or to the best-in-class PR programs. If you are using the same scale, you can make comparisons to almost anything to show our value or find where you need to improve.
  3. Education will be easier. In my short time in the industry, I’ve noticed that education is often the largest barrier to understanding. It’s hard trying to teach clients and other professionals how to understand the value of your work when you’re use metrics and methods that are also unfamiliar. It would be like trying to teach calculus to American high school students in French.
  4. Acceptance won’t be a battle. It will also be so much easier to request buy-in from clients and vendors when the measures of the success are familiar and trusted. Much like education, no longer would you have to fight tooth and nail to make clients believe that measuring your way is valuable and reliable. They would already believe you from past experience.
  5. It will be harder on us, not our clients. Let’s face it, the biggest argument against this standardization and conformation is that it will hard. It will hard on PR practitioners on the front lines who have to figure out the nitty gritty details. It will be an exceptional challenge. But if it’s successful, it will never be hard on clients or vendors ever again. And it will help to lessen work in the future. Less explaining why metrics are meaningful and why PR deserves a seat at the table.

Should we focus on building on our metrics and standards? Why?

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  • Good post, Rebecca. I agree that there’s tremendous opportunity to leverage other business and marketing metrics for PR’s benefit. In fact, I would argue that’s some of what we’re doing with the standards work being driven by AMEC, IPR, CPRF and others. The Barcelona Principles last year made a strong case for measuring business outcomes and moving beyond simple output measures — and the priorities from Lisbon that focus on ROI, social media measurement and client education reflect a similar push to focus on more integrated communications metrics.

    The trick in many cases is about how to apply those broader, already accepted metrics to the public relations and social media programs that each of us is driving. That’s where we need more advocacy and education. To that end, here’s a related piece on the need to embrace the mainstream business definition of “ROI” rather than develop our own, from this week’s Council of PR Firms’ Firm Voice:

    • I was excited to see the priority placed on ROI in Lisbon, and I’m eager to watch as the development process continues. I know we can’t hope for immediate change overnight, but I think the industry is making the right steps.

      I read your piece, and I liked it! I’m interested to see how the total value piece will evolve. I am still concerned that trying to teach total value instead of just using already accepted terms will be too much of an uphill battle. We need to get all communications on one page.

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