PR and communication measurement best practice at AMEC global summit

“I believe that measurement is the most important communication discipline.”
Alex Aiken, head of the UK Government Communication Service

If you only take one thing from AMEC’s 10th global summit it should be Alex Aiken’s bold assertion. In PR and communications there is far too much emphasis on creativity. Most PR and communications isn’t creative and needn’t be creative. What it should be is effective. The way to make it effective is to use measurement for insight before you start, measurement to improve as you implement and evaluation at the end to see what you’ve achieved and how you can improve.

If you’re a PR and communication measurement geek like me then the AMEC summit in Barcelona was brilliant with an opportunity to listen to and meet some amazing speakers and network with 330 delegates from 40 countries. The two stand out presentations for me were Jamin Spitzer from Microsoft and Sujit Patil from Godrej.

The summit kicked off with a keynote from Alex Aiken, head of the UK Government Communication Service (GCS) who ranged across a broad range of topics in his usual enthusiastic style. He shared some of his thoughts from the NATO strategic communications conference in Riga which he’d spoken at the day before. He spoke about how the importance of strategic communication and how the UK government’s Fusion Doctrine says the government must use the full suite of security, economic, diplomatic and influence capabilities to deliver our national security goals. This means strategic communication is considered with the same seriousness as financial or military options.

He talked about the UK government’s OASIS framework and in response to a question explained how GCS works with other government communicators around the world to help spread and develop best practice. I’ve recently worked with GCS in Kyiv to do this by running a CIPR measurement and evaluation masterclass for the Ukrainian prime minister’s office and communicators from the cabinet of ministers.

Alex also used the summit to launch the new UK Government Communication Service Evaluation Framework 2.0. He shared a great anecdote about working with then Prime Minister David Cameron who said he didn’t like the colour of a poster and wanted it changed. Alex was able to justify the implementation and convince Cameron by pointing to the objectives of the campaign, the target audience and the insight data that backed this up.  We’ve all had ‘poster conversations’ where everyone thinks their opinion on communication is just as valid as professional, expert advice.

Later during a panel debate Alex brought a much-needed dose of reality to the AI (artificial intelligence) hype by reminding us that technology and data alone are not the answer, it’s the expert human understanding that’s most important. He also said he believed “We don’t have an evaluation deficit, but a leadership deficit.”

During the panel Richard Bagnall, AMEC chair, made one of the most important points of the summit when he said “We shouldn’t have an inferiority complex and think ‘advertising’ is better at measurement and evaluation than PR or comms. We can learn from advertising, but it isn’t better than us.” This chimes with what I’ve said for years. Advertising and marketing people tend to be far more gung-ho and confident about their numbers, but when you actually take the time to study and question them they are just as flawed (or as good depending your perspective) as the best PR and communication ones.

Another useful presentation was from Dr Jennifer Bruce, global leader of communication measurement, at Adobe Systems. She presented a compelling case study about how Adobe changed its global PR and communication measurement from multiple, fractured output-based reports from PR agencies, in-house PR teams and measurement companies to outcomes based reports based on communication objectives tied to business objectives. She demonstrated how data collaboration with operational and sales functions can be connected to communication data to identify correlation. She also reminded us that correlation isn’t necessarily causation.

Jamin Spitzer, senior director of communications insights, at Microsoft gave one of the most useful presentations packed full of soundbites and more importantly actionable ideas.

He also cautioned against thinking that ‘PR attribution’ is the holy grail of measurement by reminding us that PR is so much more than just sales or marketing and that linking it to sales is potentially just as flawed as AVEs (advertising value equivalents). Spitzer said we mustn’t forget intangibles like trust and non-sales activities such as corporate social responsibility (CSR). He said “PR puts us in a position to farm, marketing nurtures the field, sales folk harvest the crop.”

One of my measurement mantras is that it is wrong to use measurement and evaluation primarily to show your boss or client how clever you’ve been, so you should forget about showing off and use it to improve what you do. Because if you use measurement and evaluation to improve what you do then by definition the results you’ve got to brag about will be better. Spitzer’s version of that was to transform data practices from using data for taking credit to taking action. He warned against:

“Big numbers, spin results, take credit”. He described insights as “a backward looking probability that informs a forward-looking possibility.”

Another great aspect of the summit was the great ‘sketch notes’ done in real time by Linda Saukko-Rauta.

Sujit Patil, is the vice president and head of corporate communications at Godrej Group, a US$4 billion conglomerate with interests in everything from FMCG and real estate to agriculture and aerospace. He manages PR and communications for more than 20 businesses and 40 brands for all stakeholders including 1.1 billion customers. I’ve previously spoken at conferences alongside Sujit so having seen him in action had high expectations. He didn’t disappoint and despite speaking near the end of the day he gave an energetic and lively presentation on ROO – one small step for measurement, one giant leap for PR! He hammered home the importance of ROO – return on objectives to align communications to organisational objectives.

One joint case study by a global drinks brand and its multinational PR agency is one that stuck in my mind and I’ll be referring to again in future… as a perfect example of how not to do measurement and evaluation. It was evident from the reaction of some of the delegates around me that I wasn’t the only one wondering how they could have been so oblivious to all the excellent work presented and not realise that their very output focused case study fell short.

It was also one of several case studies that used video to present the ‘report’. If I’d been asked in advance if I thought that was a good idea I’d have responded with an enthusiastic yes. However, I’m definitely not a fan of the ones shown. They reminded me of the worst type of infographic where design and images are being used for the sake of it, rather than to make the data easier to understand. The videos shown were lightweight and did absolutely nothing to make the results easier to understand or make them more relevant to objectives the c-suite cares about. In fact they did the very opposite and made it harder to understand as you had to remember the previous part of the video, rather than being able to see it all together on one page. They also made what should have been compelling business cases look irrelevant and fluffy.

Another speaker that struck a positive note for me was Giles Peddy, senior vice president EMEA corporate development at Lewis Global Communications because so much of what he said chimed with things I talk about on measurement and evaluation. He’s the first PR person, other than myself, I’ve ever heard talking about using the ‘five whys’ to identify objectives.

Professor Jim Macnamara gave a great talk on metrics and insights that ‘cut it in the C-suite’. I particularly liked his slide that showed inputs, activities and outputs (media coverage, events, videos etc) as cost centres with outcomes (awareness, attitude and behaviour change) and impact as value added centres.

Francis Ingham, CEO of ICCO (International Communications Consultancy Organisation) said that the work of AMEC and Barry Leggetter has been phenomenal, but reminded us this is no time for complacency.

“AVEs are almost extinguished in the UK and North America – the latest PRCA Census told us that a mere 12% of practitioners used them in the preceding twelve months.

“But in many other parts of the world, they are alive and kicking. In the Middle East for example, 83% of practitioners use them according to ICCO data.

“Equally, while half of UK practitioners are aware of the Barcelona principles, that number is much lower in other regions of the world.”

That’s why much of my professional consultancy work and training is working with PR and communications professionals in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia to introduce the Barcelona Principles and the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework into more and more corporations and governments around the world. It’s also incredibly disappointing that only half of UK PR practitioners are aware of the Barcelona Principles. My own experience is that even the half that are aware of them, don’t necessarily understand what they are and more importantly how to create communication measurement and evaluation systems that comply with the principles.

During the summit it was disappointing to see media monitoring company Meltwater issue a fake news story about the AVE value to Singapore of the Trump-Kim summit. It reminded me of the Brand Finance fake news story where it claimed AVE for the UK resulting from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. Utter bull***t and it’s incredibly annoying that respected media brands like the BBC and Reuters both ran news stories using fraudulent data to mislead and lie to the public.

The summit concluded with the presentation of the AMEC international awards which I was privileged to judge of this year. The awards that stood out to me were two gold’s for the UK Government Communication Service, the most effective consumer PR campaign for Manchester-based Smoking Gun PR and Isentia which scooped the Grand Prix. The Isentia award was for doing some amazing research for McDonald’s product development in Asia that resulted in Isentia winning the ‘Most impactful client recommendations arising from a measurement study’.

Finally I have to conclude by paying my own personal tribute to Barry Leggetter who at the end of 2018 is stepping down as CEO of AMEC after 10 years of service where he has transformed the membership organisation into a truly global power house that has helped transform and improve communication measurement. Barry has received numerous awards for his services to the public relations industry, but I’m particularly pleased that the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has awarded him an honorary fellowship in recognition of his achievements in driving change in public relations practice. Honorary Fellowship, conferring membership for life, is the highest grade of CIPR membership and is granted by the board of directors.

Disclaimer – the UK Government Communication Service is a client (via my role as a Chartered Institute of Public Relations trainer).

Disclaimer – I’m a member of the CIPR board and wrote a supporting statement for Barry’s nomination).

Credits – photos from AMEC official photographer, PRCA, me and Twitter accounts of Prime Research and Cision.

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