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Flaherty's measurement mission

3 April 2014

Gorkana catches up with Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty about his mission to rally the industry to unite and adopt PR measurement standards.

Flaherty's measurement mission

At the 2013 AMEC conference you promised to spearhead an industry-wide effort to get AMEC standards adopted by global agencies. It’s a big ask - how are things progressing?

The good news is that I haven’t encountered any resistance to adopting the AMEC standards from any of the firms. Most told me or David Rockland [partner and MD of Ketchum Global Research and Analytics, CEO of Ketchum Change and chairman of AMEC] that they were already in agreement with the standards.

Last June you said there was an urgency for the industry to avoid being overtaken by companies from other industries who use marketing analytics as a matter of course. Is this the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2014?

It's one of the top three challenges, along with the need to transform to new digital and social approaches and the need to ramp up creativity. We need to fully embrace measurement and analytics. We are seeing less resistance today but there is still a need to bring out the left brain side of our business, not just the creative right brain side.

You’ve talked in the past about a skills rebalancing to bring more people with quantitative abilities into the world of comms but realistically is this possible for all agencies and in-house teams?

It is possible and essential, and also challenging. At Ketchum we’re investing in mandatory training, building the largest PR research organization in the industry and getting involved in industry organizations like AMEC, IPR, ICCO, CIPR and so on. This has to be thought of as a major change management exercise that involves new skills, new talent, new capabilities and new cultural priorities.

Does robust evaluation have to cost a lot of money?

No, and it drives me crazy when people use that as an excuse. Good evaluation isn’t about 200 columns of data. It is about identifying a golden thread between what the client is seeking to achieve and the tactics you’ve chosen to deploy. As with so many things in life, less is more, if you do things correctly. I won’t be the first person to say that building in evaluation at the beginning of each campaign makes life a lot simpler.

Do you think there’s a danger that getting caught up worrying about the numbers chokes creativity?

I think this is a phony debate. It’s something that’s been manufactured to stir up a little drama and appeal to those who want to identify with a 'creative' or 'data' tribe. If you are going to impact the bottom line, don’t leave things to chance, get some insight into what’s going to move the needle on people’s behaviour. That isn’t the same as assuming you have to crunch staggering amounts of data. You need to support your observations with the key pieces of intelligence that will unlock a campaign then focus your creativity on that.

And finally, do you think we will genuinely see a world without AVEs?

Yes. Western societies have entered into an era of incredible transparency, and peeling back what works and therefore knowing the value of public relations is part of that. Speak to CEOs, CFOs and CIOs in other industries and a big part of their thinking is around business intelligence at the moment. I think we’re moving towards a much deeper effort to quantify the value of reputation, understand the science of consumer behaviour and measure the effectiveness of what we do. The measurement techniques we’re talking about today are just the start.

The 2014 AMEC summit takes place in Amsterdam on 11 and 12 June and will this year focus on how PR professionals and measurement firms can work together more closely.