Nothing like throwing out a controversial headline to get the blood boiling. Reading Nick Wrenden's column in TechLinks entitled Lets stop trying to measure PR was better than a vente espresso with an extra shot-- I actually had to take an extra dose of my blood pressure medication after reading it.
After the drugs kicked in, I took a deep breath and realized that this is a classic case of everything looking like a nail if all you are selling is hammers. Wrenden sells sales lead management systems, so he's making the argument that the only valid form of communications measurement is sales and that everything else is a waste of time.
The most infuriating element of Wrenden's rant is that he uses a Sears study that I'm very familiar with to make his point. If he'd bothered to do any homework, he would know that Sears was absolutely able to calculate sales increases as a result of PR. As does Southwest Airlines, Procter & Gamble and numerous other companies.
First of all, Mr. Wrenden, not all communications programs are designed to generate sales leads. Many are intended to manage issues, inform audiences and build relationships. But again, if all you're selling is lead management systems, you probably can't t fathom that anyone would have any other objective.
Secondly, PR is NOT the same as media relations. Public Relations professionals are in the business of building relationships with stakeholders. Yes, some of those relationships are with the media, and yes, many many PR people measure their success in terms of media coverage. But they also measure relationships, awareness, attitude shifts and other outcomes.
Thirdly, PR measurement is not about justifying ones budget, it's about collecting data on which to make better decisions. Sure, one data set might include the number of leads generated, another might be the number of opportunities to see your key messages, another might be your share of brand recommendations, or the number of web site downloads or web sales. Its when you look at these measures in the context of each other that you get really solid information about the performance of your organization. That's how to measure PR.
Wrenden's piece is a bit narrow minded and totally self serving, but in terms of measuring its results, it was a pretty effective headline if your metric is the number of controversial conversations started. On the other hand, if you're measuring in terms of sales leads, I've talked to a heck of a lot of PR people about it, and I'd hazard a guess, none of them will ever buy Mr. Wrenden's product.