Most of this August issue of The Measurement Advisor is based on conversations with peers, clients, and a ridiculous amount of media content on the subject of technology and communications measurement. One of the most authoritative sources, which we report on almost every year, is the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism’s 2019 Global Communications Report, otherwise known as the GAP report. (This year’s complete title includes, “PR:TECH The Future of Technology in Communication.”) The report is based on a global survey of 210 CEOs, 1583 PR professionals, and 378 students in the U.S. and around the world.
The results make one thing very clear: There’s not a lot of agreement between myself and the USC survey respondents, and even less between CEOs and the communication professionals that work for them. We all seem to be looking at slightly different crystal balls. Or perhaps CEOs are from Mars; corporate communicators are from planet K2-293 b.
We’ve said many times that the first thing you need for a successful measurement program is to get everyone on the same page as far as expectations, goals, and objectives. But according to the USC data, everyone is not even in the same general vicinity. This might explain why so many communicators feel underappreciated and under-resourced. And why effective communications measurement is often so difficult to accomplish.
Disconnect #1: What’s the purpose of communications?
For starters, in terms of goals, not surprisingly, a CEO’s top goal is to sell stuff (see the chart above). Number 1 for communicators is, “differentiating the brand from the competition.” Not that differentiation doesn’t help sell stuff, but brand differentiation is a very different metric than sales volume. So unless communicators figure out how to connect the dots between differentiation and increased sales or market share, communicators will continue to wonder why they can’t demonstrate their value to senior leadership.
My view: They’re both right, but what communicators need to do is to sit down with the CEO or their designated dashboard/measurement person and get agreement on how brand differentiation contributes to the sales and market share goals. Then come up with some acceptable measurable proxies for progress towards the sales goals.
Disconnect #2: What’s the point of communications?
Next up: One of the biggest trends in brand communications is the need to express brand value around social issues. While 69% of communicators say it is likely that they would be communicating about societal issues, 60% of all CEOs say they are not at all likely to say anything about societal issues(!) And even if communicators can persuade the CEO to care, they usually care about completely different social issues. Communicators care most about diversity and inclusion, CEOs care most about data privacy.
My view: IMHO, the CEOs who answered the survey are completely out of touch with today’s (and tomorrow’s) work force and consumers. Increasingly, consumers are voting with their wallets and making purchase decisions based on their values. Employees and the talent you’d like to recruit are making decisions the same way. And what they care most about is climate change and social justice, not necessarily data privacy.
Disconnect #3: What the tech is going on?
Another pain point between communicators and their CEOs has to do with the purpose of new technology. One third of CEOs see technology as most useful in helping to improve their customer experience, which is clearly where AI and analytics has been going. For communicators, the biggest driver is delivering measurement. Specifically, most communicators see technology’s future as helping in social listening, website analytics, social media management, and media monitoring—all things that technology has been doing for years.
Only 18% of communications executives believe that AI will be important. And almost no one sees virtual reality, augmented reality, or voice assistance as important to their work. This despite the fact that PR professionals predicted that in five years 35% of financial reporting would be written by AI, and that 26% of business coverage and 28% of general interest coverage would be written by machines. We dub that the Ostrich Syndrome.
My view: In this case I have to agree with the CEOs. AI, AR and VR are all going to fundamentally change how we communicate and do business in many more ways than just social listening and analytics.
Disconnect #574: We can’t even agree on how we will communicate in the future
Perhaps the most surprising data point is that when asked which communications strategies would be most valuable in the future, CEOs came down firmly on shared media, i.e., social media and online influencers (38% ), and owned media, that is, original content distributed through company channels (36%).
While in-house communicators agreed that owned would be important, agencies ranked earned media much higher. In a not-at-all-surprising coincidence, agencies not only saw earned media as most important, they also reported that their revenues were most dependent on it.
My view: My guess is that communicators are predicting what they are most familiar with, and they’re fundamentally wrong in their predictions. In a skeptical world, when more people are questioning the veracity of the media, the future will be shared, with some influence from owned.
And speaking of the future, agencies are much more optimistic about future budgets than in-house folks. 69% of agency respondents said that budgets would increase in the coming year, while only 32% of in-house communicators saw an increase in the future. The majority felt that budgets would remain the same. Someone is going to have a budget crunch in their future.
And the award for Most Depressing Finding goes to…
The most discouraging section of the report is this quote: “The number of tools available to the PR professional is growing exponentially. But few are viewed as very important to the communications work currently being done.” While that is no doubt true, the corollary is that practitioners will continue to invest in tools because they think they’ll get an instant no-effort solution to the continuing struggle to demonstrate their value.
In reality, however, the future will belong to the humans who can use the tools to analyze and interpret data to provide the answers senior leadership needs.
I did find one area in which I’m of the same mind as the poll’s respondents: Nearly two out of three respondents agree with what I’ve been saying for a while: In five years no one will be able to distinguish between paid, earned, shared or owned media. And 55% don’t think anyone will care. ∞