Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
September 14, 2009

If You Can’t Measure It, It Doesn’t Count

Just a few decades ago, most workers made “something.” The economy was defined by industrial output, and jobs usually involved manufacturing products, extracting natural resources or handcrafting tangible things. Those types of job still exist today, but we now live in a world in which the “service economy” —  or the increased importance of the service sector, of which public relations is a part — is a much larger economic force.

Of course, public relations professionals produce “things” too. We write plans, conceive ideas and organize and conduct events — but writing plans and generating ideas isn’t really what we do.

When I would ask my University of Maryland students at the start of each semester, “What do public relations professionals actually do?” they eagerly would say things such as, “public relations professionals ‘create buzz.’”  Wrong answer.

Many of us, caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities, don’t always take the time to connect what we do to the larger, organizational goals of a project — or to evaluate our progress toward achieving those goals. The measurement part, though, is critically important:  If you cannot measure what it is you do, the output will have less value and respect in the marketplace. There also will be less willingness to pay for it.

So, what is it that public relations does, exactly?  And, more importantly, what are the results?

I was asked by PRSA to lead a group of experts in examining more closely the issue of what, exactly, public relations does and, more importantly, the results that it generates.  Our objective was to make broad recommendations to public relations professionals regarding metrics and the process of measuring what it is they do.

Thus, my associates and I, working on PRSA’s behalf, have documented measurement approaches that, we believe, will work for most types of project and in a vast array of circumstances. As a public relations professional, you need to start thinking about measurement at the outset any project — so we’re recommending what you should measure, and how you should do it. Ultimately, these recommendations will be available to you as part of PRSA’s resource library. They will also become part of a larger PRSA initiative to link public relations to the achievement of organizational goals.

Now, however, we’re seeking input on our recommendations. This is your opportunity to tell us what you think and offer suggestions for incorporation, before we issue our final set of recommendations. It isn’t just about whether our recommendations are “right,” but whether they can be easily understood and used by public relations practitioners.

So let us know what you think — by the end of September, please — at which point my colleagues and I will assess the feedback and make adjustments.  Speaking of which, I would like to thank each of our team members for their work, all of whom are past or present Chairs of the Institute for Public Relations’ Measurement Commission: Pauline Draper-Watts, current IPR Commission Chair; Katie Paine, KD Paine & Partners; Mark Weiner, Prime Research; and Don Wright, Boston University. We also received great help from the PRSA staff.

Albert Einstein once said “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.”  For public relations professionals, however, you’ll count more if you can measure what you do.

We look forward to receiving your feedback.

Dr. David Rockland is partner and managing director of Ketchum Communications. He is responsible for overseeing the Agency’s research products and services, as well as developing innovative approaches to public relations research and measurement for Ketchum clients around the globe.

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