What’s the first rule of measurement? I know, I know: everyone says it is “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” Or maybe “What is valued is measured.” Heard them all, have the t-shirts. They are important rules. But here’s one that’s even more important:

Follow the money.

Trust me, I’ve been following it for more than 30 years.

Adventures in Following the PR Money

When I started out in PR, way back in the 1980’s, the key to my success was my own insecurity. After a stint in journalism, I began working in high-tech marketing. I was a newbie with a degree in Asian Studies—definitely out of place in a world of engineers. To compensate, I knew I had to make darn sure that what I was doing worked. So I adopted a technique that any engineer could appreciate: I showed that I was spending money cost effectively. I’d pour over my ad budgets, media schedules, and lead forms, and then calculate either a cost per target audience reached or cost per lead.

In 1985 I was put in charge of corporate communications for what was at the time the largest private software company on the planet. Our PR was something that was both paid for (in the form of multiple PR agencies) and highly valued. And, in this case, “success” was defined as turning around the company’s negative image in the media.

This company had a reputation for replacing the head of corporate communications every 12 to 18 months. I knew my position was tenuous unless I could justify my existence. So, at the end of the first year I hired someone who fit our definition of a potential customer and had them read all 2,000 articles my team had generated. I gave the reader workable definitions of “negative” (the story left the reader less likely to purchase our products) and “positive” (the story left the reader more likely to purchase our products). The reader’s assignment was to assess the sentiment of each article, flag any of our messages that had appeared, and note whether any of our spokespeople had been quoted.

With that data I produced a very pretty graph that showed that the ratio of negative to positive articles had dropped steadily. Also, a graph that demonstrated that when company spokespeople were quoted we were far more likely to get our messages across. I kept my job.

What’s more, I showed these charts to legendary PR pro Bob Strayton, the head of our PR agency at the time. His praise set me on course for the next stage of my career: “Any agency that isn’t using this process by the year 2000 shouldn’t be in business.”

As it happened, of course, when the century turned there were a great many agencies that weren’t using my system. But the number has been growing every year, fueled in large part by the amount of money now spent on PR.

More Money, More Accountability

Which gets us back to the future of measurement and following the money. The more that is spent on an activity, the more the CFO or the senior leadership team will demand accountability. So, to focus our crystal ball on what the future holds for measurement we first must figure out where the money is going.

To do so I’ve attempted to read every piece of data from Forrester, The Institute for PR, the Annenberg Public Policy Center and others. Combining that with my decades of experience, I conclude that the money is moving towards integrated, customer-centric marketing. Which means the future of measurement will include:

5 Key Elements that will Dictate the Future of Measurement

1. Customer-centric marketing metrics will rule

Marketers have the money and they are driving the move towards integrating communications efforts. Customers and prospective customers will see a single consistent message everywhere they are likely to go for information. Therefore, message pull-through and consistency will become a key metric for all communications efforts.

2. Measurement by conversions, not eyeballs

Long gone are the days when effectiveness was measured by how many eyeballs you’ve reached. Today it’s all about getting the right eyeballs to act in a way that increases revenue. According to Forrester’s annual CMO survey, the money is moving to places like paid social, SEO, web marketing, and email. In these channels results are measured by goal conversions and increase in new customers.

3. Proof of influence, not popularity

Way too much money has been spent currying favor with online influencers who don’t deliver business results. So, look for increased scrutiny of actual leads, purchases, or conversions, not just popularity. Read more about the future of influence in the article “Does Influence Have a Future? Is Your PR Influencing Anyone?”

4. The skepticism factor

Concerns over view-ability, ad blocking tools, and brand damage due to programmatic placements (read about Procter & Gamble’s adventures with this, and also SNCR’s fake news survey) will cause increased scrutiny of metrics, whatever they are. Be prepared to show validity. Make sure that your margins of error are acceptable and your statistical benchmarks are valid.

5. Video and podcasts

Video and podcasts are the hottest new trends for marketers. Look for increased attention to accurate measurement of both.

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