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How Can PR Professionals Wind Up with an Entire Brain: In dialogue with David Rockland

This article first appeared on PR Romania.

Most PR professionals recognize today the importance of measurement standards. Nevertheless, the practice looks a bit different. There is a quite big gap between good intention and action in this field, a good reason to interview one of the most remarkable leaders in this field – David Rockland, Ph.D., Partner and Managing Director, Ketchum Global Research & Analytics; CEO, Ketchum Change and Chairman, AMEC (Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications).

David is responsible for the agency’s research products and services, and developing innovative approaches to measurement for Ketchum globally. He is the primary author of the Barcelona Principles, the first-ever set of standards for PR measurement.

PR Romania: David, when did you start dealing with questions on PR research and measurement, and how did you get there?

David: A woman made me do it. I had moved to NY in 2000 to be with my now wife, and took a job at Ketchum. Initially, it was a bit more focused on corporate reputation management, but quickly morphed into heading the research group. Prior to that, however, I had a wide variety of top roles in corporations and non-profits that often involved assessing the value of communications and public affairs to the organization. And, my doctorate explored how to value environmental benefits that are not traded in a market-place – water, air, fisheries, etc. So, measurement and evaluation has always been in my blood in one form or another, but it wasn’t really until Ketchum that I started to specifically work in the field.

PR Romania: Most PR professionals recognize today the importance of measurement standards. Nevertheless, the practice looks a bit different. How do you explain this gap between good intention and action?

David: I think it often comes down to money. Either the PR professional prefers to spend the budget on the PR program versus its measurement. Or, while we talk a good game around measurement, we fear its possible results that may demonstrate that the money spent on the PR program could have been used in a better manner. On the other hand, we measurement types need to demonstrate better why what we do not only showcases what worked and what didn’t, but can be used in a predictive manner to continuously improve performance.

PR Romania: What was the most frustrating experience in your measurement work? Could you share with us such a situation when you thought your evaluation tools and possibilities were too limited to get you further?

David: I’d say the most frustrating experience is not a limitation of tools, but a limitation of their implementation. It is cases where we spend all the time talking about what and how to measure, and then actually never doing it.

PR Romania: Do you think the agency of the future will need a dedicated measurement professional?

Daivd: I don’t see how you can be in PR and not have some access to measurement services. Every RFP I see, every client I talk to, they are increasingly demanding accountability as well as an ability to predict outcomes. That is what measurement delivers.

PR Romania: What are the biggest mistakes you see companies make when it comes to PR research and evaluation?

David: First, thinking of measurement as a way to justify what you have done, versus how to use it to predict and create better results. Second, to use silly metrics such as AVEs or even worse multipliers based on earned media being more valuable than paid media, which may or may be the case. Third, and most importantly, to not set goals first. We often rush to the measurement without first defining what we were trying to achieve in the first place. As a result, any measurement will do.

PR Romania: How do you manage to stay current with industry news, trends and tools?

David: People. As Chairman of the industry trade association for communications measurement, AMEC, I receive lots of information about what is going on in the industry. But more importantly that AMEC, is my own staff, many of whom are younger than me and who expose me to new and different thinking all the time. And, then there is my wife who is the head of surveys and polling for CBSNews, and who brings home lots of new thinking around the use of polls and surveys, much of which is applicable to communications measurement as well.

PR Romania: Can you share some of the top resources that every communications professional should know on PR measurement?

David: There are certainly some excellent resources on the websites of AMEC, ICCO, PRSA and IPR among others. However, I would advise a communications professional not versed in measurement to make a friend of someone who works in the field. Let’s face it, PR people tend to be right brained – great at creative, terrible at math. Measurement people are the opposite. Find someone who is more left brained, have a meal with them once in a while and share ideas and thinking that spans creative to research. Together, you wind up with an entire brain.

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