Eighth GAP Report Reveals Real Progress on Standards and Use of Research

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GAP VIII provides new insights on measurement best practices.

By Special Correspondent Brian Ward—There’s a delightful feeling you get when you realize, “Yes, there is a manual for that.” For PR practitioners, that manual is the USC Annenberg Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center’s Communication and Public Relations Generally Accepted Practices study.

If you don’t have time for that many syllables you can just call it “GAP VIII.”

GAP VIII is the most comprehensive study of senior communicators in public and private corporations, government agencies, and non-profits in the U.S. The study’s goal is to track and analyze the interrelationships between PR/Communication and organizational mission, strategy, character, management, etc. GAP VIII also provides CCOs with actionable data on key management issues, key trends, and best practices.

Chart from GAPVIII

With one exception, companies have been radically increasing the amount of money they spend on measurement since 2011. Companies in the $1-$4.99 billion range were the only ones that saw a decrease in their budgets, with a reduction of 42.1%. On average, though, the budget allocation for measurement increased by 65.1%. The most drastic increase was for companies in the $5-$9.99 billion range, who increased their measurement budgets by 204.9%. These numbers may continue to increase in upcoming years: GAP VIII found that 42.9% of U.S local and regional companies, 50% of national companies, 58.3% of multi-national companies, and 46.3% of global companies are expecting budget increases in the future.

This is just one facet of a great deal of data showing a higher priority and focus on measurement. More than one in five responding organizations (21.9%) said they are increasing their use of audience research in planning and executing campaigns. Nearly a third are tracking and analyzing stakeholder conversations. 71% say there is a need for PR professionals who can interpret the data – meaning they need Measurement Sherpas.

One of the most noticeable changes is in the top tools used for measurement and evaluation. In the 2011 GAP study, the top five metrics were “Influence on Corporate Reputation,”  “Influence on Employee Attitudes,” “Metrics for Digital/Social,” “Influence on Stakeholder Awareness,” and “Influence on Corporate Culture.”  Three years later, only “Influence on Reputation” remains on the list, holding its first place rank. The second most important tool in 2014 was “Social or Online Media Metrics,” followed by “Content Analysis of Clips,” “Total Number of Clips,” and “Total Impressions.”

One of the biggest changes the study has found was in the use of standardized measurement. Despite the adoption of The Barcelona Principles in 2010, and creation of standards by The Coalition and The Conclave, there’s been a belief by many that the industry still lacks standards for measurement. The good news is that GAP VIII found that 25.9% of participants used some form of standard measures recommended by professional organizations, such as the Institute for Public Relations. Another 13% said they were considering adopting recommended standard measures, but hadn’t implemented them yet.  The rest use standards either developed in-house or by consultants, with only 11.2% not measuring or evaluating PR activities.

The study also showed that web-related functions and responsibilities within organizations have been growing, with 79% of participants saying that social media measurement is a core responsibility. The bad news is that while social media activity is increasing at a rapid rate, measurement is not. Social media monitoring has only increased by 2% over the last two years; with 79% of participants listed it as a core function/responsibility.

The GAP study used its data to create a list of best practices for measurement, stating that social media measurement is best used to enhance PR/Communication’s internal position of strength. Also, it advises organizations to:

  • Adopt a rigorous approach to strategic planning tied to business goals/strategies, data, etc.; objectively assess sacred cows.
  • Focus on measurable objectives tied to business strategy and goals; measure business outcomes rather than communication outputs.
  • Use the best available, most credible measurement tools.

In an interesting side note, the study also found that those who do not measure or evaluate PR/COM activities are much more likely to describe themselves as being:

  • Rigid
  • Autocratic
  • Reactive/short-term
  • Tactical (rather than strategic), and
  • Conservative.

And finally, GAP VIII states in its conclusion that the transition from old school to new school practices has been gaining speed.

Old School

New School


• Perspective limited by experience, training

• Lacks C-Suite access

• Communicates, doesn’t formulate policy

• Is non-integrated, silo’d

• Doesn’t seriously measure

• Emphasizes tactics over strategy

• Uses agencies primarily for arms & legs

• Is satisfied with limited role


• Constantly seeks, evaluates, and adopts beneficial practices& characteristics

• Embraces full potential of social media – not shiny objects

• Uses the best of available measurement tools & pushes for better ones

• Has C-Suite access

• Formulates & communicates policy

• Champions integration/collaboration

• Has strong business, organizational & professional skills

• Emphasizes strategy over tactics

• Recognizes & seeks to achieve the discipline’s full potential


Read the full GAP VIII study here. ∞

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