LONDON — Too many PR teams focus only on measuring outcomes at the end of a campaign, rather than investing in heavyweight research at the initial strategic stage, according to Hotwire Global CEO Barbara Bates.

Speaking at an event on “Proving the Value of Integrated Communications” organised by PR measurement body AMEC and the PRCA as part of AMEC’s Measurement Month, Bates said: “Measuring the effectiveness of PR campaigns and ROI is incredibly important as long as it’s done right. But often measurement is used for ass-covering: using convenient stats so we can pat ourselves on the back when we've completed a programme, so it’s about self-justification rather than illumination.”

Conversely, Bates believes measurement is being underused at the front end of comms: “Clients are looking for different things from their comms teams. It’s no longer about execution – they want a strategic thought partner. And while businesses are swimming in data, what they need is meaningful insight to formulate impactful comms strategies.”

Bates conceded that one of the barriers to doing more research was the cost, but said agencies were often talking to the wrong level in client organisations: “Our day-to-day contacts within the comms discipline are usually managing a tight budget, and the research and strategy work that needs to happen on the front end is incredibly valuable and not inexpensive. If you leave it to that level, chances are you’ll be shut down every time. We need to work with higher levels to make the business case for that investment.”

And Bates urged agency teams to be braver about justifying the need for a research budget: “We need to come to the table with a bold demand for why our work requires that research and strategy spend ahead of time. It needs to be a must-have, not a nice-to-have, because we can see real financial and business impact when insights are used up front.”

She added that insights were now not the only research-driven elements of successful comms programmes: “PR needs to get good at quickly harnessing not just insights but foresights – the things that will matter significantly tomorrow, not just today. If you can help clients skate to where the puck is going to be, they’ll win more than anyone else.”

Also at the event, AMEC launched its latest tool for PR professionals: the Measurement Maturity Mapper, or M3. The tool, developed by a team of specialists, benchmarks communications measurement and makes practical recommendations for areas of improvement.

AMEC global MD Johna Burke said the M3 would be “an aid for communicators wrestling with how their measurement and evaluation compares and how to evolve their programmes.” She added: “This initiative is important because while some of the market has an established measurement program there are still areas globally where measurement is still very basic. With a better perspective of the maturity of the market, AMEC can plan and partner more strategically to advance communications evaluation efforts.”