Annenberg study: PR healthy, measurement isn’t

The latest USC Annenberg study on public relations generally accepted practices (GAP) is out — thanks to K.D. Paine for the news — and while the huge 3.4 mb, 300-plus-page PDF may be a bit hefty after a long weekend, the executive summary (PDF) is worth a review, especially if you’re interested in the state of measurement in the PR business today.

Some key takeaways:

  • First, the good news: Despite the economic uncertainty of the times, “the GAP V data [collected in the fourth quarter of 2007] suggests that the profession is stronger than ever before, and perhaps more recession resistant (though not recession proof) than has previously been the case.”
  • Now, for the bad news: “Organizations remain reluctant or unable to allocate adequate resources to PR evaluation, preferring to focus on execution. At a time when the profession is under increasing pressure to demonstrate its value in ‘hard’ terms, this may be a dangerous, self-defeating posture.” Furthermore: “The fact that a score of 4.67, on a scale of 7, was the highest earned by any methodology strongly suggests to us a lack of enthusiasm for the currently available measurement techniques.”
  • But not all is negative on the measurement front. The exec summary further notes that “the imperative to seriously evaluate PR spending and activity now has equal footing in organizations of all sizes.” And apparently, most CEOs think their PR shops are doing an “adequate” job of evaluation. At least, that’s what the survey respondents (PR types) think: “Respondents reported (5.09 on a 1 to 7 scale) that the CEO believed that PR evaluation methods were adequate.”
  • “Still, given the average expenditure of just 6% of budget on evaluation, the authors believe that the PR profession is not doing enough to demonstrate its value relative to other disciplines.”
  • PR remains fixated on trying to measure “reputation,” whatever that is, “despite the lack of any widely adopted method for doing so.”
  • Included in the budget section is another interesting item that pertains to measurement: “It will be difficult for PR to get a larger share of the total communications expenditure without quantitative means that go well beyond primitive numerical counts of media clips and a hypothetical tally of impressions.”

There’s much more in the summary about evaluation methods. I’ve yet to dig into the report (it was a long weekend, after all) but this summary has whetted my appetite.

A few other items of interest:

  • Attention, PR directors and others in charge of budgets: Next time you talk about budgets with your supervisors, you might want to bring up the “PR/GR Ratio.” (That’s the ratio of your PR budget to gross revenue, or in the case of universities, perhaps some other metric, such as total tuition revenue plus gift and research grant income.) The Annenberg study calls this ratio “an increasingly valid model for large organizations, which spend an average of $786 on PR for every $1 million in gross revenue.” Whether you’re in a large organization or not, it’s at least a benchmark that may come in useful at budget time, if only to show how far your PR budget lags behind the state of all PR. (The Annenberg study may break this down for non-profits, too, if you want a more realistic benchmark. But who needs realism when you’re asking for budget increases?)
  • If you don’t report directly to the CEO (or the president or chancellor, in higher ed’s case), you may not be perceived as vital to the organization as those colleagues who do report directly to the top executive. And if you report to HR, woe is you: “Organizations where PR reported to human resources were more likely to have PR report to multiple units or functions and less likely to have the CEO believe that PR contributed to the financial success of the organization.” Fortunately, that model is rare in higher ed. I think.
  • The larger the organization, the more reliance on outside agencies. “In general, 56% of GAP respondents worked with outside agencies. Among the very largest public organizations, 93% used agencies in some capacity.” Also: “The percentage of total budgets allocated to agency fees continues to trend upward.”
  • Overall, PR seems to be making inroads as a strategic partner in organizations. “It is encouraging to see that, even among smaller organizations, PR practitioners are more and more involved in the important strategy meetings at which the key decisions and direction of their organizations are planned and analyzed.”

It’s important to keep in mind that this is a huge meta-study, and may not provide much in terms of peer-level comparisons or data. Still, it’s important to view the big picture of PR and marketing from time to time to see where the business is heading.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

2 thoughts on “Annenberg study: PR healthy, measurement isn’t”

  1. Having previously worked for a pr agency, I have been subjected to every conceivable form of pr metric and formulas for calculating how many people were “reached” from any given pr offensive.

    While we shamelessly self-promoted the gross impressions we generated, the only metric that seemed to have much impact on clients was an increase in stock price/gross revenue/sales and how well the pr team contributed to “selling the bananas.”

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