PR & Communications

Katie Paine: PR is Losing to Content Marketing Because of Bad Metrics

  • Author

    Iva Glavinić

  • Published

    Apr, 07, 2017

  • Reading time

    6 min

Katie Delahaye Paine is a renowned expert on public relations and a pioneer of the public relations measurement for three decades. She has founded two measurement companies, KDPaine & Partners Inc., and The Delahaye Group.

Her books, Measure What Matters (Wiley, March 2011) and Measuring Public Relationships (KDPaine & Partners, 2007) are considered must-reads for anyone tasked with measuring public relations and social media. Her latest book, written with Beth Kanter, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit:Using Data to Change the Worldwon the Terry McAdam Book Award in 2013.

She blogs, tweets, speaks at numerous conferences, writes a newsletter and contributes to a lot of PR industry publications.

This interview with Katie covers the lessons she herself has learned, threats PR faces from budget cuts from digital marketing, and a practical case study about what happens when PR pros prove that what they are doing makes business sense.

You’ve been a pioneer of the measurement industry for more than 20 years now. Tell us a bit more about your path – when did you first become interested in measurement?

In the late 70’s I was a newly minted liberal arts graduate with a degree in History and Asian Studies who answered an ad that said “Wanted: Marketing coordinator, knowledge of the English language helpful.” Suddenly I found myself in a world surrounded by engineers who would question my every move. One day I produced a graph, complete with all our results from various ad campaigns. Suddenly instead of senior leadership saying: “why should we do it your way?” I heard them say “Let’s do what Katie recommends.” I realized that the key to success, at least in Silicon Valley, was to forget words and only communicate to these techy guys via charts, graphs and spreadsheets.  So, I began measuring everything I could.   

What motivates you to devote your time and energy to this issue?

Before I got into tech marketing, I’d been a journalist. Everyone in my family was either a writer or an editor and I was working at a newspaper. The constant stream of press releases (not nearly as bad as is now) drove me nuts. I figured that if I showed people how ineffective stupid press releases were, I’d be helping my fellow journalists and family members. Then, I began to see that with the right data, people started making better decisions across the board –not just around press releases, but around tactics and strategies. I started being able to show them how to make their programs better AND convince their senior leadership teams to heed their advice. The notion that I could convince these huge companies to do better communications was heady stuff and three decades later I still love what I do.

What do PR people have to stop doing in measurement?

Relying on bad, stupid or inaccurate metrics like AVE’s and impressions to justify their existence. PR does so much more than that, but if all they measure are column inches and eyeballs and never connect those activities to the business, then PR will always be seen as tactical, short term and low value. That’s why it is currently in a death spiral of sorts, losing credibility and budgets to content marketing and digital/social.

What should they be doing instead?

They should be sitting down with senior leadership and getting agreement on how PR contributes to the business.  They should be asking “So What” at least three times, as in, “so what if we get good coverage, how does that contribute to sales (or revenue or whatever the business objective is.) Once that path is clear, then they need to talk to sales and marketing about what makes people buy the product (or do whatever it is that PR is meant to be doing.) Then they should track and measure the press coverage to make sure most it contains those things. For example, if customers and prospects are swayed by a beautiful product photo, a recommendation, a message or reference to a brand benefit, that should be considered a “perfect ten” story. Then you can give a “quality score” to your coverage based on the influence it is having on consideration, preference or intent to purchase.

Our users sometimes tell us that it’s hard for them to measure the impact of so-called “awareness campaigns” without AVE metrics and eyeballs. What is your opinion on this?

First, you can’t tell whether someone is “aware” of anything from AVE’s or eyeballs. Awareness exists (or doesn’t) in people’s minds, and research shows that even seeing something multiple times doesn’t necessarily generate awareness. So, the only way you know for sure is to ask people and thus awareness, preference, and/or consideration can only be measured via surveys.

All AVE’s measure is how many column inches you got. It doesn’t even show “value” since most of what is included in AVE calculations, people would never have paid money for in the first place. Most impressions don’t reach the intended audiences anyway and no one has accurate data on exactly what percentage of the target audiences are in fact “reached.”  So, I’ve never been clear on exactly what value can be attributed to either AVE or impressions.

Would you say that general awareness about the importance of measurement is growing? Have you noticed any positive improvement since the Barcelona principles?

People are increasingly embarrassed by their use of AVEs and will apologize for using them. The good news is that while adoption is still far from universal, the Barcelona Principles have at least introduced the concept of “business outcomes” into conversations about how one defines success.   There is a general sense that people “SHOULD” be measuring outcomes and impact, even if they may not have everything in place to do so.

On your blog, and you often write about Measuring Mavens – companies that are doing measurement right. I’m sure you know a lot of stories that could inspire our readers to become better in their measurement efforts. Can you share one with us?

Yes, after 30 years of doing this it’s hard to pick one, but my favorite is the Atlantic City Alliance. They came to me with the explicit goal of dumping AVE’s and doing measurement right. The first thing we did was to sit down and come to an agreement on the measure of success. Since their goal was to attract non-gambling visitors to the famous New Jersey Boardwalk city, ideally, we’d count new visitors. But there was no mechanism in place to track actual visits. So, we agreed that downloads of the visitor guide were an indication of interest in visiting, and thus an acceptable proxy for consideration of Atlantic City as a destination.  Based on market research that told us what would make people consider a visit to Atlantic city, we developed a quality index that established that the perfect story would include a key message, a recommendation, a desirable photo and would leave the reader more likely to visit the city.  We also mapped out a nightmare scenario (and there were plenty of those.)  We then correlated our “coverage quality index”  against visitor guide downloads to show the impact of quality coverage on consideration. We then compared that to the paid advertising to show that PR was more cost effective at delivering web traffic.

Then, in the summer of 2015, waves of bad news hit Atlantic City’s beaches, driven by casino bankruptcies and other scandals. They used their measurement data to craft tightly focused messages, images, and spokespersons to drive coverage to counter the negative stories and focused their efforts, again using their measurement data, on the outlets where it would matter most.

Not only did they use their metrics to mitigate the damage, but when budgets were being cut, (including the salary of the executive director and the entire paid advertising campaign), the PR budget remained untouched, thanks to the metrics that clearly showed the program was worthwhile.

As you can see, Katie is opinionated and straightforward, but best of all, everything she tells is rooted in real-life examples. Subscribe to her newsletter and she’ll show you how to go from saying “the campaign has earned us a million impressions” to saying “the campaign has earned us a million dollars”. 

You should also bookmark her blog. Katie’s blog is the best place to get informed about any changes in the measurement standards of the industry. 

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