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Measurement Month: A golden age for PR M&E with Professor Tom Watson

In this episode I speak with Tom Watson who is both an academic, currently emeritus professor in the Faculty of Media & Communication at Bournemouth University in England, and an esteemed author, writing about measurement and evaluation of communications for the past 30 years, including being co-author of three editions of the seminal textbook Evaluating Public Relations.

Tom takes us back to the origins of PR measurement and evaluation; way back in fact to the first President of the United States, George Washington, who wanted to know what people thought of him – not too different to the goal of every politician today.

Tom describes the global pandemic as the biggest ever communication measurement and evaluation scenario ever –the greatest data collection on behaviour change and attitudes we have ever seen. In many ways a golden age for communication measurement and evaluation because the outcome of communication has become so vitally important.

Communication professionals are very good at words, narrative, creation of stories but in Tom’s words, we have to grow up and become adept handlers of data how to gather it, how to process it, and how to express it.

“Gather the data anyway you can because any data is better than guesswork.”

Tom points practitioners in the direction of a German Model called Communication Controlling which has at its core a goal to show the business value of communications – what was the impact on the strategic and financial targets of the organisation.

To this end, Tom warns practitioners off using the term ROI, referring his research with Ansgar Zerfass – when management talk about ROI they are talking about return on employed capital, when communications talk about ROI we are talking to intangibles that can’t be added to the balance sheet. Even if we have one number – an AVE, for example, (which Tom describes as being a classic example of the statement of easy, simple and wrong) – it isn’t an amount that actually exists.

Tom puts it simply – the idea of one metric is not reality. We have to have a portfolio of measurements – being both tangible and tangibles.

This is the latest in a series of podcasts released during Measurement Month. Catch the other podcasts on this blog, on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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