According to the latest Gallup research, just thirty-two percent of Americans say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the mass media. And only fourteen percent of Republicans trust it. So, if people don’t trust the media, then why do so many PR professionals and their bosses obsess about getting into it?
The short answer is: We become what we measure. Truthfully, despite my (and many others’) best efforts to the contrary, measures of success for PR haven’t changed in decades. After years of ranting and raving about the need for better metrics, most PR practitioners still measure success by counting impressions, and worse still, using Ad Value Equivalents (AVEs). Neither of which matters one whit to the business if those placements are disbelieved and/or if no one acts on them. So why are we still measuring the wrong things? There are three fundamental reasons:
Let’s face it. CEOs have egos. For them, it’s always great to be able to see that one’s exposure in the media is greater than that of the competition. For many organizations, size is all that matters. And there are many consumer brands for which the volume of your shouting is all that counts.
The money isn’t enough to measure
For many large consumer organizations, the amount spent on PR is not much more than a rounding error, so it’s not seen as “worth it” to implement a better, more accurate measurement system. Thus, the folks on the digital and marketing side of the house can boast of revenue contribution, while PR remains relegated to the back of the budget bus.
“That’s the way it’s always been done” is perhaps the worst reason to continue doing something stupid. Unfortunately in many organizations, tradition dies hard. In talking with my measurement peers in Europe, they’ve been providing clip counts and Ad Value Equivalency calculations for decades to satisfy the demands of their U.S.-based corporate masters. These systems have been in place for so long that changing them requires a complete overhaul—an occurrence that only happens when the old guard is replaced by a new more data-driven mentality.
Initiatives like the IPR Measurement Commission and the Barcelona Principles have spurred some of the more advanced organizations to add qualitative metrics to their media monitoring programs, e.g., tracking share of voice, sentiment, message communications, and positioning on key issues. But all they’ve really done is made a distinction between “good” and “bad’ placements. That may have been good enough for most organizations. But now, when media credibility has tanked and people’s beliefs are frequently disconnected from reality, who cares?
The New Reality
Clearly, we’re long overdue for a change in what we measure. Here’s why:
Who knows if you’re reaching your target audience?
The first problem is that, in order to persuade the people you’re trying reach to act or believe differently, the medium you are using must have credibility. More precisely, it must be read by and have credibility with your target audience. But, as we mentioned before, media credibility is declining and the reach and impression numbers provided to advertisers aren’t trusted either. Ridiculously large reach numbers are being scoffed at by marketers in board rooms across the country, as well as in the media.
Even if you reach them, chances are they won’t believe you.
Whether you’re doing PR for an environmental group, a government agency, or an oil company, some percentage of people won’t believe you no matter what you say or the media says about you. Most people won’t care, and the media will pick up your story depending on their corporate boss’ agenda and the amount of space they have to fill. Research has shown that, even when confronted with photographic evidence of a fact, people who have already made up their minds won’t change them. Even more reason to focus only on those whose minds can be changed.
People are just as likely to engage with and believe alternative sources.
A 2014 Pew Study revealed that more people trusted The Daily Show than Bloomberg. Rogue Twitter handles like @altUSNatParkService and @BadHombreLands_NPS sprang up within hours of when the White House shut down the official U.S. National Park Service site. A day later, they had more followers than the official site. It’s hard to compete against humor and fun if you’re boring and corporate.
What’s the purpose of that press release anyway?
The new reality is that the purpose of a press release today isn’t to get a “placement.” Most organizations are sending out releases to get whatever they’re trying to say into Yahoo News so a search engine might find it. Obviously, the degree to which this applies depends on the nature of the organization. However, we are now in an era where most of media is either paid or owned, and the rest is content creation in hopes that one ‘earns’ some attention somewhere.
Most PR people are content creators not relationship managers: get over it and measure accordingly.
I realize this is heresy, but it is also reality. While many of us on the traditional side of PR would like to think that our purpose is to build relationships with our stakeholders, the reality is that most PR people spend their days creating content. And the purpose of most content marketing is to generate leads, revenue, or some other expression of interest or consideration. None of those outcomes can be measured by impressions. Instead they are typically measured by conversions in Google Analytics or Omniture or some other metric tied to business results.
This is the new reality, and while you may be able to keep it at bay for a while, the old world won’t last forever. Just be grateful that you can’t be replaced by a chatbot, yet. ∞
(A similar version of this article appeared in Katie Paine’s Measurement Blog.)