As vice president and global head of external affairs at Philips, Andre Manning has emerged as one of the most eloquent advocates for a more cohesive PR measurement system.

Manning, who has spent two decades in a variety of communications roles across Philips' international operations, is a visible presence on the industry circuit, endlessly exhorting PR people to overcome the measurement challenges that continue to stymie their progress.

While no company has definitively solved the public relations evaluation conundrum, under Manning, Philips has come pretty close. The company has developed a global system that goes beyond traditional media metrics to focus on a variety of key performance indicators, including a net promoter score that helps  it understand the balance between advocates and detractors in every major market around the world.

Manning sat down with the Holmes Report in London last week for an in-depth interview on the state of PR measurement, voicing a number of forthright opinions on the hurdles that many still find difficult to overcome.

Budget concerns; the industry's move away from common metrics; the need for integration with CRM; and, perhaps most provocatively, the "fear" that Manning still feels debilitates the industry. Read on for Manning's views on all of this and more.

You’ve been vocal in your call for the PR industry to develop its analytics capabilities. You’ve said that if the PR industry doesn’t do it, someone else will. Who?

Analytics is not the standard skill set of us PR guys. There are a number of consulting companies, like Booz or McKinsey who could do this. We have to be in the driving seat otherwise others will drive it for us. As a function, you can put yourself even higher on the radar of your customers, by showing the added value of communications.

The biggest challenge that is often cited is funding. Are the budgets being made available for PR analytics?

I just spoke at the PRAnalytics conference. I asked, ‘how many of you spent more than 5% of your annual comms budget for analytics?’ I think less than 5 out of 100 people raised their hands. Can you imagine if this kind of question would have been asked for product developers, marketers, strategy guys? They would be in trouble. We still let it happen. Initially, you probably do need more money. On the other hand, analytics will bring you insight to be more effective in the process.

There seems to be a lot of talk but less action. Why is this shift happening so slowly?

Fear. It is completely out of our comfort zone. It requires tools and thinking and skillsets that is not a common skillset. It’s the unknown. Could you imagine someone develops a new product and goes to market without doing any research? We have so many tools available to us that are no expensive. Realtime monitoring is already in place. Making the step to realtime analysis might require a little more money.

Are comms departments and agencies able to get the access they need to a company’s customer data?

I see it as a challenge, but a lot of data is available. Probably we have to be more stubborn to get that data. In the end, it is a key element for being more successful.

Vanity metrics are still popular, especially in social media, whether Facebook likes or YouTube views. How do we overcome this?

A lot of metrics that are used are still output-related. A like on FB has nothing to do with behavioural change. Does it lead to a purchase? I don’t know. I don’t think the link can be easily made. For me, a like on FB is similar to walking into a retail store and saying I like the retail store. The challenging thing is to find out what’s actually happening with our brand. In our company we linked it to net promoter score. There is not an industry standard.

Does there need to be an industry standard? Is that realistic?

Probably it’s not realistic but it would be helpful. Maybe not for the industry because everyone is developing their own metrics. A common language in the industry would be helpful.

Isn’t there a risk that a standard metric will be dumbed down, like ratings in the TV world?

If the solution is that kind of metric, then I think we miss the point. The most important thing is can we find something where the reputation of the company can be translated, or the score can be related to awareness? Or even beyond that

Do you integrate Philips’ reputation metrics with CRM systems?

We have started to do this. With new product campaigns, in particular, because it’s easier to do. We already did it for the launch of the new brand of Philips.

Then you must start to see some correlation?

You do see a correlation. It’s at a very early stage but that’s the goal for our function. You can see where you need to invest.

One of the problems cited with measurement is that you can’t always measure the management of an issue, or the value of minimising a crisis.

I think you can. In the end you want to minimise the impact of a crisis on your reputation and minimise the impact of these things on customer feedback. We had a couple of profit warnings a couple of years ago. At that time, I thought that we were too dependent on the financial element of our reputation. We started to focus much more on the innovation DNA of the company.

We forgot to focus on what is the differentiator of our company, which is a 120-year heritage in innovation. So we tried to balance the negative issues with more positive ones, in the end to influence my overall metrics. Financial performance was too influential on my net promoter score — I found some other elements that could bring my net promoter score back to the right score.