Nov 24, 2016

Sheridan McVean leads dynamic discussion on evaluation of public relations

Evaluating and measuring public relations efforts is sometimes like spotting the Ogopogo. Each sighting has some similar elements, but there's a lack of consistency in the visual — enough to make it tricky to clearly prove it’s real. 

The same goes for PR. With a variety of opinions and perspectives on which metrics to use for measurement and a lack of clarity on articulating value, it's one of the most challenging aspects of the industry.

Working to change the conversation is Sherdian McVean, who recently spoke to a full house of Canadian Public Relations Society members in Calgary about the Barcelona Principles

The Barcelona Principles

The seven principles — established in 2010 and refreshed in 2015 — cover everything from goal setting, to measuring outcomes instead of outputs, and the importance of consistent measurement related to social media. 

McVean emphatically reminded the crowd about the importance of integrated communication strategies.

"Let's not get into the silo of public relations and what we're doing in PR — how many releases we put out, how much we use social media," says McVean. "Let's look at the overall goals of the organization and what we're doing to achieve those and measure them."

McVean led the discussion to focus on output, outtakes and outcomes. Outputs are the physical products of a public relations campaign – news releases, social posts, brochures etc. Outtakes are what members of your target audience take away from the campaign, their perceptions and understanding of the program. Outcomes are changes in behaviours and opinions.

The presentation circled to an example of the extensive communication campaigns related to drinking and driving. McVean cites the behavioural change that is slowly coming as a direct result of these campaigns.

"Behavioural change is the hardest thing to accomplish. We can influence their attitudes, but getting (the audience) to change their behaviour is the hardest."

PR programs, explained McVean, need to be measured and evaluated on outtakes and outcomes. Find the data that explains what people are taking away from your campaign and if they've changed their behaviour.

"Stop living in the output stage."


Education and awareness

The discussion evolved through the course of the hour to a passionate discussion among members about return on investment (ROI) and advertising cost equivalent’s (AVE). How do we have those conversations with management who expect to see a dollar figure?  

McVean and other CPRS members focused on the need to set the standard and take steps to educate management about new measurement tools and tactics. Remove the dollar figures and focus on engagement data — attitude and behavioural changes.

A fantastic lunch and learn, McVean summed it up with a reminder for practitioners to incorporate measurement and evaluation into the early stages of planning. 

"We need to move into the evaluation and measurement space — the Barcelona Principles are a starting point for the discussion. If it's not in our plans, it's not helping management."

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