“Did everyone know this was a discussion about evaluation?!” This is what I found myself asking out loud as a packed room of 60 people for the PRCA’s first Evaluation Group event swelled to a further 70 people, and the organisers struggled to put out more chairs as yet more people joined.

It was a very interesting event, with speakers for measurement businesses like Question and Retain and Kantar Media, and agencies like Hotwire. The audience was around 80% agency and 20% in-house. Given it was a measurement event, I should probably have better data for this…

There were some great and thought-provoking questions from the audience, but I thought I’d summarise the key points I made at the event, which I hope are helpful…

Key Performance Indicators are just that

I was keen to deconstruct the oft-used term “key performance indicator” or “KPI”. They are “KEY” performance indicators because they are must the most important ones to focus on. But I made the point that, if possible, you shouldn’t just measure what matters - measure as much as you can, but focus the attention of the senior leadership of your business or client on the measures which are most important to them, which you can genuinely affect. “Performance” indicators because this is about performance, so you need to know quickly so if something isn’t performing, so that you can improve things. And “Indicators” because they are just that – they “indicate” something and may not be the only factor which drives success.

Alignment is the key challenge

When starting a communications programme, or indeed any marketing activity, you need to have a clear and agreed understanding across all stakeholders about the desired outcomes for this. I don’t believe that the CEO of a FTSE100 business wants to increase the volume of media coverage that they are achieving in tier one media. In fact, I’d suggest that they probably couldn’t even name you the titles you class as “tier one media”. They more likely want to increase sales, improve the bottom line, launch new products, services or markets, and they care about the leading and lagging indicators which will have an effect on this. Having agreement on the desired outcomes from all the stakeholders is vital to campaign success, and agreeing a valid measurement framework for doing this.

Awareness is not a valid outcome for measurement

Related to the above, I personally don’t believe that “awareness” is a valid outcome for measurement. I don’t believe that many senior business leaders would agree with the phrase “I was to increase awareness of my business”. Again, they may say that they want to increase sales, and awareness may be a leading indicator to sales, which can be measured in a number of ways. But it’s not an outcome for the business, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

The future’s bright

I have spent all 17 years that I’ve know the organiser Andy West (full disclosure, one of my bosses at Hotwire) in and around the measurement of communications, and I’ve seen the introduction and explosive effect that the internet and social media have had in that time. I believe that there has never been a more exciting time to be a PR practitioner. As more transactions happen online, and more leading indicators of performance have some kind of digital event – whether that’s a website click, a like, share, a download of a piece of content, a web form completion or a number of others – we have tools to measure our performance and, ultimately, effect on the work we do for our clients and the companies we work for. And if you pay attention to what senior industry CMOs like Keith Weed of Unilever have to say about other channels of communication and marketing spend, the time is now for PR and communications.

These are just a few key points from wat was a very lively and very well attended event. Keep an eye out on the PRCA website and social channels for more content about measurement and evaluation. Another great resource, which had more than one mention at the event, is the AMEC website, run by the irrepressible Barry Leggetter.

Audience attendance may be one key measure of the interest of an industry in a topic, and based on the packed house that attended this event I’m sure that there is a very real focus on measurement and evaluation in the PR industry currently! Long may it continue!