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Dispel These Nine Measurement Myths in 2020 En Route to Success

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on and has been republished with permission. 

As 2019 winds down, we reflect on the past, look forward to the New Year and consider the many opportunities and challenges it will bring. Thoughts turn to beginnings, fresh starts and replenished budgets. To succeed, though, we must discard old notions, reject tired chestnuts and dispel the myths that stifle our profession. 

1. PR Research is Too Complex and Expensive

Communications research is more accessible to more professionals than at any time in the history of PR. Some do-it-yourself platforms are even free. 

Despite the limitations of free and low-cost tools, they provide simple ways to conduct an online survey and a media analysis. Based on the findings from such a survey, you can create an appetite for data and insights they enable. 

As the interest in data and insights grows among internal clients and your team, resources for more evolved approaches will materialize. These will take you even further on your PR research and evaluation journey. 

2. PR Measurement, Research and Evaluation Mean The Same Thing.

As the wordsmiths representing our organizations and clients, we must strive for precision in every instance. As such: 

  • Measurement is the lowest form in this hierarchy; it’s equivalent to “counting” 
  • Research involves gathering, analyzing and interpreting data about a market, a company or a brand, and its past, present and future potential 
  • Evaluation requires expert judgment to draw data-informed conclusions about quality, merit or worth 

You’re sunk without a real-time effort 

3. Real-Time Analytics are Essential.

The pace of business and society often demands immediacy and responsiveness. Still, high-stakes situations require thoughtful consideration, in which case, “right time” matters more. 

Here, right time represents the speed of deliberate decision-making, often at higher levels within the organization. To fuel such decisions, the trade-offs between speed, accuracy and budget shift the balance in ways commensurate with the situational implications, which may be high. 

4. PR Research Only Tells Us What We Already Know.

While that’s true some of the time, wouldn’t you enjoy the benefits of pre-testing your hypothesis in advance of launch? Reassurance holds great value when alternative approaches may be too speculative, expensive or even careless when under closer scrutiny 

5. PR Tools are ‘Insights Engines’

While technology plays an essential role in achieving the desired insights and analysis, it represents only one-third of the insights equation. The other two parts reflect the need for research and evaluation (see number 2, above), which are the human complements to achieve a reliable outcome. 

Sector expertise ensures that the data and research are undertaken by people familiar with PR, your industry and the media. 

The third element, statistical acumen, guarantees accuracy and an ability to reveal the stories below the surface. Eliminating any one of these three parts translates into findings that are either inaccurate, irrelevant or in-executable. 

Everyone is using AI to measure 

6. Artificial Intelligence Drives Most PR Research Programs

While AI captures a lot of attention in PR discourse, there’s very little that qualifies as true artificial intelligence, as opposed to machine learning, which is a lower-form of AI. 

Machines continue to struggle with intangibles. Take content analysis, as an example. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of ways an author can express a reputation theme such as innovation. Without humans to ‘teach’ and manage the technology, using AI to track the concept of innovation will fail. 

The future of AI in PR holds great promise, but it won’t be hands off and it’s not here yet. 

7. PR Research Kills Creativity and Negates Professional Expertise.

This argument implies that the sterility of data conflicts with the ingenuity of the communicator. On the contrary, research and evaluation focus the communicator’s brilliance on areas holding the highest potential for explosive results and positive ROI. 

8. Connecting PR With Sales Remains Out of Reach for All But The Biggest Companies.

Until 2018, when advances in marketing technology enabled PR pros to track clicks from the digital news article level all the way through to online purchase, this myth held true. 

In the past, the only ways to quantify PR’s contribution employed marketing mix models (still popular) or the rare case where PR operated in isolation with no competing factors to influence the buying decision. 

Now, even low-budget PR campaigns – even B-to-B – track consumers from article (origination) through awareness, consideration, understanding and purchase (optimal completion). Called attribution analysis, the incremental budget for this technology falls within most PR budgets (PRN, Oct. 2019). 

9. The Right Budget for Communications Research is 10 Percent.

This canard suggests that all companies and brands are at the same stage in their respective life-cycles. 

The right answer on budget for communication research, of course, is: “It depends.” If you plan to announce a breakthrough product, 20 percent might not be enough to optimize the occasion. If, however, you plan to milk a dying brand, 2 percent could be too much. 

The best advice: Speak with a communications research expert. They can guide you. A great source for free information is the Institute for Public Relations

Ancient societies and PR 

When we think of myths, we tend to think in terms of ancient societies. To explain certain phenomena, these cultures applied limited knowledge to uphold a particular belief, which, in turn, typically supported the conventional wisdom of those in power at that time. 

Today’s leadership knows enough about business and the power of data sciences to elevate the enterprise in ways that go far beyond PR’s purview. As we seek to quantify PR’s unique contribution, to communicate our impact on business performance and to remain relevant as a profession, measurement, research and evaluation hold an essential position for the modern communicator. With that in mind, 2020 may be the year for clean slate public relations.