Accurately measuring and reporting the impact and effectiveness of earned media has been, and continues to be, the subject of persistent debate within the public relations industry. It’s not difficult to understand why.
External PR and communications agencies have an incentive (in the form of continued generation of fees) to deliver results favorable and beneficial to their clients: background, strategy, influencer and journalist identification, coverage, crisis counseling, reporting, and more. And they must deliver in a media and influencer environment that is increasingly difficult to consistently predict, shape, and extract value. It’s no small task.
There are lies. There are damn lies. And there are statistics. ~Mark Twain
A key reason that earned media measurement has been slow to innovate is the result of brands continuing to allow the outside agency to measure the performance of their own efforts, often without external validation. While we would never infer that an agency with a financial stake in the performance of their work would deliberately “massage”, include, or exclude data to improve the appearance of their results (no, never), it is not a stretch to assume the injection of bias in favor of an agency’s work as almost inevitable.
When measurement methodologies and practices can be continually refined to present results in their best possible light, brands can be left under-informed or misinformed, which can have a cascading impact on executive decision making. This is the reason sports have referees and why elections have monitors – to remove bias and inaccuracy from results.
And while corporate communications executives inside brands are placing greater focus on measurement of their activities, measurement as a priority among agencies has lagged. In fact, just 36% of PR execs in agencies consider improving measurement an effective way to demonstrate the value of public relations.
But accuracy and accountability does not just fall at the feet of agencies. Because public relations is inherently a production business, software vendors serving the PR industry have historically been incentivized to deliver outputs that map to agencies strengths. Which is why “volume of output” is continually used as a key metric. In fact, nearly every social media listening and media monitoring platform on the market today produces a volume of coverage, mentions or “impressions” as the initial metric in their interfaces. While everyone loves a chart that grows up and to the right, metrics like this are not necessarily indicative of success or value in an earned media campaign.
Today, there is a growing movement among leading brands to demand accuracy and accountability from their agencies and their software as it relates to earned media. Results have been too inconsistent, too easy to manipulate, and too “fuzzy” for too long. They want to understand if the agency work they are buying – in terms of outreach, engagement, and background – earns coverage that is truly valuable and impactful to the brand. They want their software to move beyond what’s easy to count, and produce real answers to tough questions. And they expect reporting and insights to help them make faster, more informed decisions.