Too often the idea of measuring effectiveness sends shivers down the spines of PR and comms people.  Everyone knows it is vital to commit to evaluation, but often it is complex, potentially expensive and can be just plain difficult.

Consequently, performance metrics are often built around what can be measured, such as the number of pieces of press coverage, rather than what should be measured: how PR helps meet business objectives.

And so the value’s gone from whatever evaluation is done.

Too frequently evaluation doesn’t aim to understand how a campaign is working, how it isn’t, what to do better, and how to do it.  It has no higher ambition than to tick an arbitrary box, such as the volume of coverage, the opportunities to see, or whatever.

These measures, and many others like them, may be evidence of industry, but they are not evidence of success.

Used properly, evaluation should do more than track what has been done. It should inform what will be.  It should make it easier to plan for more effective results in the future.  It should look forwards as well as back.

The inability to do that may be a barrier to PR being taken more seriously at board level.  Fixing that could unlock the transformation budgets needed to do truly great work.

That is what advertisers, sales and marketing and increasingly digital have been doing for years.  They have been using measurement to show the effectiveness of what they do, and what more they can do.

Unevaluated PR is marking time

Consequently, while good people in PR continue to thrive, the sector as a whole largely marks time.  It has never tried consistently to prove its worth and demonstrate that it deserves a place at the top table.

This stops PR and communications from performing at its best or where it should.

It means businesses miss out on the value that communications can bring to them, improving sales and reputation.  It undermines the PR industry’s ability to attract the top talent it needs to thrive, evolve and remain relevant.

Showing real value

Once PR learns how to show its value, and perhaps not before, it will deserve to be taken seriously at the highest level.  But for many that will mean change.

It means starting with a clear view of the objective and being clear, and often imaginative, about what can be measured to track if things are changing (or not).  This might mean starting with what is already measured within the business, and then considering what that will tell you about the PR programme.

It means looking at who the campaign is trying to influence, and exploring how their changing attitudes or behaviours could be measured, either directly or through proxy audiences.

It means thinking about the outcomes, not outputs.  It means looking at what can be measured along the way, and what those measures might mean.  They could be traffic to a web site, more incoming calls to a press line or inbound inquiries, to name a few.

Of course, there is always a risk of “clutter” getting in the way, making it hard to attribute any impact to a specific comms channel. It is important to identify the signal in among the noise.

Good evaluation drives out bad work

PR needs to start making the case to be taken more seriously.  That means recognising the downside, that better measurement might consign some activity to the rubbish heap.  Face facts, some staple PR activities have little value and are not worth doing.

Proper evaluation would expose weak work more quickly, and kill it more quickly.  And that would be a good thing.

That’s the point about evaluation, whether for PR or other better-measured marketing disciplines.  It is meant to point to what works and what doesn’t.  It is not simply there to look backwards.  It helps do better in future.

It is supposed to improve the end product.  To make communications more effective.  To weed out the rubbish.  To meet the business objectives.  To improve sales and enhance reputation.

That’s why I’m delighted to be associated with The Measurement Practice.  A group of real experts in evaluation and communications research, data integration, media analysis and insight, communications and strategy and analytics, data mining and technology.

This first appeared as a guest blog over at the B2B PR Blog