Quantitative PR Measurements: Rewiring Our Goals and Metrics


By: Karyl Leigh Barnes, Development Counsellors International

Numbers don’t lie. But they don’t always tell the whole truth, either.

When it comes to measuring campaign success, destination marketers often default to raw data that fails to tell the entire story – or even the right story.

That’s not to say that destination PR is simply inventing their various metrics to assess the success of a campaign or project. Nor is it to say that quantitative research is useless. Data is real. But quantitative measurements in public relations are largely based on the best data source for which communications teams have the budget to subscribe, and equations for arriving at certain numbers like advertising value equivalency (AVE) can vary greatly.

These numbers start to mean less and less in a sea of data, when instead communication needs a more human, qualitative approach to assess success. That’s why Destinations International launched its new handbook this year to help destination marketers rethink how they measure success.

For any PR professionals new to the business – or anyone in it so long that they think they know it all – it’s time for a crash course on qualitative measurements. 

Why Qualitative Measurements?

Simply put, communication can’t always be measured quantitatively, making it difficult to present statistical evidence as proof of success to destination organizations. The effectiveness of brand recall or brand recognition isn’t something an algorithm can provide. No tracker can reveal if a destination is top of mind at the time of purchase or if it was an afterthought. Artificial intelligence can’t quantify the amount of trust a human being has in a destination brand. Not yet, anyway.

Instead, qualitative research – think focus groups and other human-based research – provides information and feedback that goes beyond the numbers. It gives us answers and insight that data alone cannot.

The Barcelona Principles – a backbone of today’s PR since 2010 – lays out the need for setting goals and measuring outcomes. They encourage more holistic measurements beyond just advertising equivalency to take a qualitative measurement of our destination marketing efforts in addition to a quantitative one. Far from dismissing quantitative research, the principles instead open the door for more tailored, human-centric evaluation of PR efforts to inform clients in more concrete terms.

Set Specific Goals

Using the Barcelona Principles gives PR professionals a framework to use for their destinations, but also sufficient liberty to set their own goals. By doing so, they can measure their PR efforts not by some arbitrary yardstick, but by their own internal needs and goals.

Reading it now in black and white, it makes perfect sense, but PR professionals haven’t always worked this way, traditionally looking at outputs instead of setting their own goals and creating ways to measure them. It’s often difficult, or even daunting, to consider the endless possibilities of goals and measurements that destination marketers can conjure up, but such liberty is key to doing what’s best for a destination.

Not every destination needs the same sort of campaign or marketing approach, therefore setting your own goals is paramount to doing what’s best for your community. If you’re setting the goals, therefore you’re also setting the measurements to gauge results. Qualitative practices like focus groups or consumer surveys can provide powerful insight into whether or not you are achieving your goals.

Keep Teams on Task

Moreover, by using the wrong metrics and forcing your communication’s teams’ hands, PR efforts could inadvertently be altering the very jobs that its practitioners are doing to the detriment of reaching their goals. They might keep trying to jam a square peg in a round hole when ultimately it was never about the two fitting together in the first place.

If all you’re seeking is a certain quantitative outcome – be it ad equivalency or otherwise – your team will be so focused on achieving that goal that shortcuts become tempting and real communication with prospective travelers may be waylaid. Generate your own goals and teams will feel more invested in achieving them and analyzing the feedback and data that tell the story of their success.

Looking Forward

In the end, following the Barcelona Principles means engaging both qualitative and quantitative methods – either by itself is insufficient. The takeaway is that while many PR professionals rewire themselves to allow the development of unique, destination-specific goals, they also need to lean into qualitative methods and avoid defaulting to just counting numbers.

Organizing a pretty Excel sheet is easy. Leading a successful focus group to assess brand awareness or perceptions, however, requires a bit more effort, but the rewards are greater.

To learn more about the shifting needs of public relations measurement, VP of Communications at Destinations International, Caitlyn Blizzard, is helping to roll out a series of speaking engagements nationwide. As co-chair of the communications taskforce, I’m honored to join Caitlyn and our communications task force in helping destinations rethink the way they measure PR success. It’s a communication imperative.

In the meantime, destinations and marketers can read more about qualitative research in the Public Relations Measurement Guidelines Handbook for Destination Organizations.