Getting the measure

Picture: Shakerman / Creative Commons
Picture: Shakerman / Creative Commons

I’ve spent the last two days in London at CIPR HQ learning about measuring and evaluating public relations.  This is a pretty big deal for me and my colleagues. Evaluation isn’t something we’ve done a lot of as part of our day-to-day jobs. In fact, to be brutally honest, we’ve barely done any meaningful measurement of the impact we make and the value we provide since I joined the team in 2008. This is not an uncommon story, particularly in the public (and especially local government) sector.

But that’s all changing. We’ve woken up to the cold, stark fact that we need to be measuring, understanding and showing – clearly and in an evidenced way – the value we provide in supporting and achieving real outcomes. There is simply no excuse not to do it anymore and those comms professionals, like me, who haven’t previously known or been confident in how to measure and evaluate their activity need to learn, fast. And so I am tasked with bringing the spoils of my learning back to my eager workmates and sharing the wealth, via a ‘how to’ guide I’ve already drafted (but will no doubt now considerably tweak) and a couple of team workshops.

It turned out to be an apt couple of days to be at the CIPR in Russell Square soaking up some good learning on measurement. Today saw the launch of the really quite marvellous and possibly game-changing My #PRStack e-book put together by 2014 CIPR president Stephen Waddington and a group of like-minded communications and digital luminaries. It gathers a set of tools, compiled on the equally spiffing PRstack website (built using the ace PR platform, Prezly) to aid PR pros through the complete workflow of the new world of post-spin PR, social story-telling and content marketing.

I was fortunate to be in CIPR towers with two of the authors of chapters in the e-book: Stuart Bruce, leading the course; and Adam Parker, founder of Readwire and Lissted (a genuinely exciting influencer insight tool I’m keen to blog about soon), who just happened to be visiting and dropped by to give us a run-through of his app and overall philosophy, which was pretty compelling stuff. (He’s also Newcastle United supporter, which means that he’s both OK in my book and has my sympathy).

My #PRstack feels game-changing because of the spirit of collaboration and generosity in which it has been done, something I feel has become an essential characteristic of the new PR.  No longer are slick PR gurus able to hide their ‘dark arts’ behind smoke and mirrors lest the competition (or worse, their clients) find out the workings or suss them for charlatans. Transparency is vital.

In the public sector, sharing knowledge and best practice in communications is well-established, best embodied by Dan Slee and Darren Caveney’s go-to Comms2Point0 blog. Communities of professionals brought together by social media are making sharing the norm across all sectors of comms and marketing practice. As Stuart Bruce remarked at the start of the course one of the reasons why we measure is we do it to help us do our job better. So things like PRstack see comms pros helping one another to do their jobs better. This can only be a good thing for the health of public relations as it undergoes its necessary reinvention. I for one, am all for it.

Back with a head full of learning, it now remains for me to sort, process and comprehend the real-world application of the multitude of shiny tools I’ve been awakened to. There are some standouts I’m keen to start playing with – and the good news is many of them are either free or pretty cheap. Here are a few, some of which you can also find over on PRstack:

Currently in beta and free to use for those admitted to a list – so put your name down before you need to pay for it. As Adam Parker described it, this is a human-powered alternative to the plethora of social media listening tools out there in that it cuts through the noise to deliver real insight. Good evaluation and monitoring should tell you the quality as well as quantity of your interactions and engagement. So, Lissted enables you to see whether the people who really matter on any topic or in a target community are talking about the right things to the right people. (Adam also had an interesting insight into how the Conservatives won the UK general election by using social media to gather insight about their critical audiences and then target them with traditional offline tactics like door-knocking… but that’s for another post.)

Also very new, this was the one that was met with gasps by the course attendees when Stuart Bruce gave us a glimpse. Partly because it feels a bit like snooping, although it is generated by social data that is freely (if not necessarily consciously) shared by users. It’s a location-based social monitoring tool that lets you see on a map within any given area the number and nature of posts to social platforms like Twitter and Flickr. On paper, that may not sound revolutionary. But for me, the possibilities of being able to listen to and interpret what people are talking about and interested in to a hyperlocal level, right down to a single block, are quite exciting while also a little unsettling.

YouGov Profiles
If you live in the UK, you’ve probably heard of YouGov. They’re the market research people also responsible for some of those exceedingly mixed election opinion polls. Well, this is a free app via their website that you may not have heard of – and it’s ace. A little like established research tools such as Mosaic but with a dab more personality, it allows you to search for (almost) any brand, personality or thing and pools the results of its vast research together to come up with fascinating pen portraits of typical customers. The results should probably be taken with a sizeable shovel of salt, especially where brands’ results are drawn from a small sample of data. Certainly, for my highly localised and public sector areas of interest it didn’t unearth many jewels of insight. But it is fun to play with.

This is just a tiny sample of the overflowing toy box of data-crunching, social media scouring products vying for your attention. As with monitoring itself, it’s hard to discern the true, clear voices from all the noise. It feels daunting and not a little confusing. But I finally feel like I’ve at least now got a rough sketch map and a blunt machete to start to navigating and hacking my way through the evaluation jungle. I’ll let you know where I end up.


Get Charter

(This post originally appeared on my other blog, Don’t Believe the Hyphen)

I’ve taken the plunge. After six years as a comms professional, I’ve gone and got Chartered. I’ve joined the CIPR.

It wasn’t an easy decision. To start with, it’s expensive. The investment has to at least feel like it’s going to be worth it – and I wasn’t previously convinced that it would be.

For some PR people, having the letters MCIPR (Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations) after their name is a big deal.

For me, that kind of ‘look at me’ vanity is a turn off. If you catch me tagging the initials on the end of my email signature, I permit you to cuff me about the ear.

The fact the credibility that comes with the badge is bought always struck me as a little shallow and even fake.

So what changed my mind?

In essence, I suppose, it has been a kind of coming of age as a comms professional, with that second word taking on a weightier meaning, loaded with responsibility. I have felt increasingly strongly that what have been called public relations practitioners truly are ‘professionals’, the same as accountants, legal advisors and engineers.

As a comms person, especially one within an organisation, you are often confronted by someone, often senior to you, who thinks they can ‘do’ comms. Or worse, thinks anyone can do comms. That it’s ‘just PR’.

Of course, we know it’s not just PR. Communications is much more than that. It’s both art and science. To do it well, add value and get real results you need wordcraft, empathy, strategic thinking and a well-attuned gut. These skills and even the instinct are learned over time and through experience, hard work and dedicated development.

This is why the idea of credibility is important. I know that doesn’t come from five letters after your name purchased by annual subscription.

For me, it’s more about signing up to a code of conduct for what it means to be a professional in your field of expertise.

It’s about learning from others and sharing ideas and best practice. It’s about earning the right to be trusted as someone whose advice and contributions will make that vital difference that only a professional can.

I don’t yet know what I am going to get out of being ‘Chartered’. What I do know is that it will only ever be relative to what I put into it.