The Top 10 PR Measurement Atrocities and How You Can Avoid Them

1. Making up Metrics

I was recently on a conference call with a respected international measurement organization and a new member of the group was explaining how she’d been pressured by her CEO to put a dollar value on her efforts. “So what we’ve done,” she said with some pride, “is equate the reach of posts to the reach of a banner ad and value them according to what it would have cost to purchase the banner ad.” For the record: There is no evidence that banner ads have an even remotely similar impact on a customer’s path to purchase as PR. As John Oliver and Bob Garfield will tell you — the chance of anyone intentionally clicking on a banner ad is lower than surviving a plane crash. There should be a special place in measurement hell for people who make up bad metrics.

2. Torturing Numbers Until They Say What You Want

We once delivered a launch report that initially included data from around 250 social and traditional media items. It showed that the desired messages appeared in about 7% of the coverage — not a bad number at all. But it wasn’t what the client expected or wanted to see.

3. You Use Multipliers

The reality is that when someone tells you that you have “reached” 200 billion eyeballs” chances are pretty good that you haven’t. Inflating impressions is a common problem in those organizations that still believe that impressions count. For some reason people want to “add weight” for specific media outlets or certain types of stories. The right way to do this is to develop a custom index that you can track over time. The wrong way is to multiply impression counts (which are arguably flawed to begin with) by multiplying a top tier publication by 2 or 3 or whatever number someone dreams up. The IPR has published a great paper on why you should never use multipliers. Your top tier list should reflect that degree to which it reaches your target audience, that’s why it’s called Top Tier. Why do you need multipliers if you are already reaching a high percentage of your target audience?

4. Using BS Benchmarks

Comparing results to the competition is a powerful and persuasive way to benchmark your results. However, in order to be truly comparable you need to make sure you are comparing the same media outlets in a similar time frame, in the same geography. If the competition launched its program the same day that Princess Diana died, and they were lucky to get any coverage at all (true story) it’s hardly a fair comparison. If you do not have the full data set for the competition because their launch or activity exceeds the time frame of your data, it’s not a fair comparison. If you are launching into a mature market but the competition was the first to market and had to educate the market as well as promote its products, it’s not a fair comparison.

5. Failing to Get Agreement on What “Good” Is

Too often, PR people define success as a big pile of clips, or a lot of neutral coverage, when in fact senior leadership measures success is terms of leads or messages communicated. When the PR person reports only numbers of media mentions, the report is considered worthless.

6. Not Having a Test in Place to Judge the Completeness of the Data

Reporting results based on lousy data is like building a high rise building on a foundation of bad concrete — it will look good just long enough to get everyone to buy into it, and then it will collapse.

7. Not Having a System in Place to Deal with the Data When it Comes in

In today’s torrent of media, you will be surprised at just how many “alerts” you will get from your monitoring system. So many in fact that the system will soon be like the boy who called wolf too many times, and you will find yourself skipping over the emails. But the reason you have a monitoring system is to ensure that you aren’t the next Domino’s Pizza or Kenneth Cole — so you need a process to stay on top of them and send them along to the people who will need to handle them. Do NOT foist that task on to your summer intern — you need to identify your own internal Olivia Pope who has the judgment and background to know how and when to respond.

8. Not Having Clear Definitions and Search Terms

Today’s monitoring services are a lot like the early days of Match.Com. Then e-Harmony came along and it’s “search” factored in a slew of other desired characteristics. Sure, it took hours to complete the questionnaire, but in the end it was worth it.

9. Having Unrealistic Expectations — Budget Wise

If you’ve been using Google Alerts and doing your own collection, you know how much staff time this process consumes. So don’t expect to outsource the task to a service that does the same thing better, faster, or more efficiently and think it will cost peanuts. The reality in the monitoring world is that you get what you pay for. You can pay as little as $5,000 a year, but you’ll have to do most of the work yourself. A monitoring and measurement service that comes with account management can range from $20,000 to $500,000 depending on the number of items collected and analyzed, the degree of customization, and the frequency of reports. Do NOT be the Fortune 500 client I had once who asked me to prepare a proposal to monitor, measure and evaluate its media coverage in 10 different countries, with 5 different competitors, and then admit three months later that the budget was only $25,000.

10. Trying to Compare Apples to Fish

Given that there are 450 different vendors providing some form of media monitoring and measurement, the easiest mistake to make is to believe that they all do the same thing. They do not. Some are designed around vertical markets, some are designed for large enterprises and most do a few things well. Some are great at news monitoring; others are great at social media analysis and managing your conversations. Some may be great at local coverage but lack the resources to conduct national or international monitoring or measurement. Make sure that the vendors you are talking to have the necessary resources, experience in your industry, and are really good at what you need them to do.

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