For most of the past 30 years, consumers of Public Relations services rarely asked PR professionals to demonstrate Return On Investments (ROI) in Public Relations. They were content with press clippings and other measures of media coverage such as Advertising Values Equivalency (AVEs). But those days are now far gone. Today, accountability is the name of the game. PR people are expected to show how their works have impacted their organizational bottomlines.

Living up to this new reality has become a big problem for most professionals. Even with an industry standard such as the Barcelona Principles which provides an overarching framework for effective PR measurement and AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework showing how to turn the principles into action to finally prove the value of PR work, most professionals still prefer their intuitions and professional judgements. Others are simply confused about what to measure.

The 3 Os of PR Measurement

Whether you are measuring relationships or reputation, understanding the basics of PR measurement is important. It is often referred to as the 3 Os of PR Measurement, namely:

  1. Output measurement
  2. Outtake measurement
  3. Outcome Measurement

Output measurement is more popular with PR professionals. It is a measure of what they churn out such as press releases, feature articles, arranging events, postings on social media, and so on.

In his work, PR metrics: Research for Planning and Evaluation of PR and Corporate Communication, Jim Macnamara notes that PR and Corporate communication is about two-way asymmetric or symmetric communication to persuade audiences… or to build relationships. Listing W. J. McCuire’s six stages of persuasion as presentation, attention, comprehension, acceptance,  retention and action, he concluded that PR measurement practices such as collecting press clippings and reporting what was sent out relate only to the first stage of persuasion – presentation of information – and gives no clue whether the information gained the attention of the target audience, or whether there is comprehension (i.e. understanding), acceptance, retention or some resulting effects such as attitudinal or behavioural change. In other words, output measurement only minister to the sense of achievement of the practitioner and say nothing about the real outcome or value of Public Relations efforts to the organization.

A step higher in what may be called the PR measurement pyramid is the measurement of outtakes.

Just like output measurement, it is done at the stage of implementation of a PR programme. It helps the practitioner to know whether those to whom the PR activities were directed received the messages as intended, paid attention to the messages, understood the messages and retained the messages in their memories.

Lastly, outcome measurement helps to reveal whether PR efforts changed the opinions, attitudes or behaviours of the target audience toward an organization. Best practice is to link the outcome accomplishment to organizational objectives such as sales, market penetration, and in the final analysis, profitability.

The Problem with Measuring Reputation

Most reputation measurement frameworks use research methods that pick a sample of the general population who may not have had real involvement with organizations they are asked to evaluate. Their findings may therefore not reflect the true state of the reputations of organizations they measure. The reason is simple: reputation is experiential.

In his book, Mastering Public Relations, Anthony Davis states: “The reputation of an organization is based upon experience of it… Experience may be:

  • Direct, as where a product or service is purchased and, or a service is received, or
  • Indirect, when the direct experience of others is recounted.

Those others are people whose judgement may be trusted, or whose credibility is plausible, and whose circumstances are recognizable and sufficiently similar to be relevant.”

Why Measuring Relationship is the Way to go.

With the acceptance of relational perspective as the guiding light in the practice of Public Relations, relationship has become the central focus of Public Relations practice not reputation. PR people are now managers of institutional relationships. The success or failure of PR work is today measured by the quality of organizational relationships established and maintained. Besides, reputation is relational. It is defined by what organizational stakeholders think, feel and say about an organization. In her book, Measuring Public Relationships, Katie Delahaye Paine, a PR measurement Guru states: “If you want to have a prayer of influencing your reputation, you first need to understand and measure the relationship behind it.”

By measuring relationships, it is easy to get to the root cause or causes of a bad reputation. In their work, Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations, Jame Grunig and Linda Childers Hon noted:

“by measuring the perceived quality of relationships, we can measure the relational forces that usually explain why organizations have good or bad reputations.” I cannot agree less.

Making the Shift

Moving from reputation to relationship measurement is easy if you know how to use Grunig Relationship Scale. It involves developing and administering a questionnaire, using statements that cover the six relationship dimensions of trust, namely: commitment, control mutuality, satisfaction, exchange relationship and communal relationship.

Typical agree-or-disagree statements from the scale include:

  • This organization treats people like me fairly and justly.
  • This organization can be relied on to keep its promises
  • I feel very confident about this organization’s skills.

The full list of questions to measure each of the relationship dimensions can be found in the book, Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations by Linda Hon and James Grunig.

Successful Public Relations focuses on relationships that are relevant to an organization. When you think of measuring your PR efforts, forget reputation and measure what really matters – relationships.