December 7, 2009
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The art of mapping the science of PR

Around the world of public relations, I keep hearing that PR is becoming more a science than an art, thanks to the advent of new online tools that allow us to see how many eyeballs are looking at the content we’ve put into the public domain. As a lifelong maps enthusiast who collects antique world globes, I am particularly mesmerized by the plotting of online visitor data onto measurement maps, such as YouTube’s insight (screen shot from my channel follows):

YouTube insight stats for Bob Pickard's channel

PR professionals have historically specialized in sharing information with others, so that people will do or think what we’re hoping they will do or think. Typically we’ve relied upon the editorial media as the conveyor of content to target audiences. That took a lot of hard work to ‘earn’ coverage, pitching stories to serious journalists, making a case with compelling arguments and ‘proof points,’ thinking in advance about helping the reporter sell a story to an exacting editor (ever worried about producing news product that the marketing department could use to extract larger sums from advertisers interested in persuading the biggest possible audience).

Today with the shrinking of the news media ‘storyselling zone,’ PR people have new opportunities to communicate corporate narratives via social media directly with constituencies of all kinds. “Every company can be a media company,” Richard Edelman has repeatedly stated in many speeches lately (recently putting a finer point on his views in this post). You could also say that “every PR pro can now be a media producer,” because we are all so intimately and directly involved with the creation, programming and sharing of content. Because this ‘PR 2.0’ takes place online, we can measure what people click, where they are located, how long they spend somewhere, what they share with others, etc. This technology is not so new, but the widespread integration of such intelligence gathering into PR campaigns is coming on strong. Clients are also more impatient than ever, and they love the instant feedback from real-time sources.

During two decades in public relations, I have sat in a lot of long meetings across from many skeptical executives — especially those with financial and scientific backgrounds — who can’t appreciate the value PR adds absent the tangibility of numbers on a chart. So, the idea that we can visibly capture the contribution of PR and try to quantify it using richer tools is immensely attractive.

For years, we could count piles of press clippings, look for a client name in the headlines, classify articles as ‘positive,’ ‘negative’ or ‘neutral,’ comb paragraphs looking for key messages, and even try to calculate ‘equivalent advertising value.’ When it came time for the new business pitch or client performance review, we would wheel out these crude measures and package them as convincingly as possible. For my money, while such techniques did offer a useful gauge of how things were going, it was a highly inexact business at best and clients often didn’t feel they could trust what often came across as self-serving numbers.

Thus for time immemorial there has been this quest for the ‘Holy Grail’ of PR measurement, which is now gathering momentum because software platforms developed to monitor social media can now, I am told by experts like Alan Chumley, also be applied to measuring conventional media coverage. Plus we can use tools like word clouds to simplify and vivify what has been a complex and rather boring area.

Going back to 1995-96, when I helped develop the original version of this site in Canada as one of the first PR agency home pages on the Internet (and then this site in Korea and this one in Japan), I’ve been fascinated by visitor stats — using Web Trends, Webalizer, etc. — but clients didn’t share my passion because the numbers didn’t compute commercially. Now, fortunately, owing to the social media explosion and existence of powerful and free measurement systems such as Google Analytics, the Internet metrics seem to mean more to the bottom-line and now PR people can walk into client meetings where budget decisions are made in a more confident way armed with data that is seen as objective and compelling. Can we now attach a specific number to a PR campaign’s exact cash register contribution? Maybe not yet, but we are getting closer, and in the meantime, I’ll have fun playing with the map dashboards:

Visitors to from Korea

[When my good friend Hoh Kim in Seoul posted a link to my blog recently, I was curious to see how many Koreans would visit my site].

Since then — and this is a subsequently edited entry — I was interested to note the 100+ source cities of visitors to this new site within its first 10 days:

100 cities of visitors here within first 10 days

Recently I have been checking out some of the new Twitter apps that map followers, such as Analytics: Analytics

…and I’ve also been using the Friend Statistics application in Facebook for a long time:

Facebook friends

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