Output or outcome – what’s the best benchmark for PRs?

Output or outcome? Both are valid metrics to measure our PR efforts and results, but we need to move on from thinking about either in the same way we did decades ago, writes PR consultant Katie Clift.

Output vs outcome. As long as I’ve been working in the industry, I have observed a significant tension between the two when it comes to executing, measuring, analysing and evaluating public relations campaigns.

Measuring output includes metrics like clip count, number of releases distributed, total volume of PR communication, AVE (advertising-value equivalent) and measuring the favourability or unfavourability of media coverage.

Measuring outcome, on the other hand, is more strategic. It’s about measuring whether the results achieved actually reflected a campaign’s goals, enacted a change in attitude, action or perception of target publics, and how they influenced the attitudes of journalists and clients throughout a campaign.

In 2004, the first major survey of Australian PR practitioners’ evaluation practices and attitudes since the early ’90s was conducted by Charles Sturt University. Perhaps not surprising to some (it was to me), the report found output measurements by far dominated PR evaluation compared to reporting on outcomes.

The study found, via a survey emailed to almost 3,000 PR professionals, that five output measurements topped the table of identified measures of PR communication, even before the first outcome measurement appeared… “these are the characteristics of a PR sector in a marketing communications / one-way information model rather than a professional group that is primarily concerned with strategic communications, which many aspire to.”

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

That was a study conducted 14 years ago. But I wonder if in some ways it still rings true in our industry today. I know many of us are longing to create, deliver and showcase more strategic campaigns, but we may be hindered because of the entrenched history of media and PR reporting nationally in Australia.

I believe both methods of measurement are important. They reflect the success of cumulative, specific activities undertaken in the lifecycle of a PR campaign which determine its effectiveness. I believe we need numbers (clip counts, items distributed and AVE), but we equally need to ensure our output is achieving the desired outcome for the public and our clients.

I actually believe that we need to work solely with the outcome in mind, which influences (and frankly, most times, takes care of) our output. The true measure of our campaigns should be what is achieved for the companies we work for, and the people they are seeking to reach. This is the brief we should be working to every day.

The study also found a strong interest from practitioners in the development of a standard set of metrics across the industry. On the surface, standardising metrics appears helpful for us to benchmark internally, especially in proving the worth of PR vs social media or marketing campaigns, but at the same time, PR is subjective. One company’s definition of successful media coverage is completely different to another’s, and that’s the way it should be. Every piece of media content, through to the crafting of an entire campaign, should be tailored for the outcomes decided with, and desired by, the individual client.

Output or outcome? I think both are valid metrics to measure our PR efforts and results. I do hope, however, that we as an industry have progressed in the last 14 years to focus far more on our outcomes, not only creating strategic media opportunities, but delivering strategically to the individual, tailored brief that every client deserves.

Katie Clift is director of Katie Clift Consulting Pty Ltd. Follow her at twitter.com/katieclift, @katieclift on Instagram or at katieclift.com.


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