Jesper Andersen: “An insight is an actionable piece of information presenting a choice”

I’ve had the immense pleasure of catching-up with an inspirational figure in the world of PR measurement and evaluation: Jesper Andersen. Jesper is the founder and managing director of Quantum PR Measurement. Seeing an industry unable to reach its full strategic potential because of poor measurement and accountability, his mission is to make measurement and evaluation as easily accessible and understandable as possible.

As the former head of press of several major organisations, you are now a business strategist and advisor. Do you see a correlation with the way measurement has evolved and is being done today?

It is tempting to say that PR professionals today are much closer to a seat at the decision-making table, because we measure and evaluate and demonstrate outcomes and business impact. However, I think the truth is a lot more varied.

In some organisations, communication is moving much closer to top management and is recognised as an important strategic part of the organisation. But in a lot of places, the communication team is still being treated as ‘the information office’, only delegated to sending out information once decisions have been made. And of course, you also have all the cases that fall somewhere in between.

When Chris Foster was the vice chair of AMEC, he described measurement and evaluation as a ’journey of maturity’*– something that resonated very strongly with me. I now have a linear map of steps that I use to visually help clients understand their evolution, what makes them unique, and explain why there is no ‘silver bullet’ or a single perfect measurement solution that can apply for everyone.

In November last year, AMEC released their new Measurement Maturity Mapper, a tool which I guess builds on similar ideas and notions.

What is your biggest challenge when starting a new measurement campaign?

I would say creating the alignment and link between business or organisational goals and communication objectives. Measuring and evaluating communication is, in my opinion, pretty straightforward. We have the tools and just need to use them.

I do, however, see a lot of communication professionals struggle to come up with relevant objectives that are clearly linked to what the organisation is trying to achieve. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but unfortunately too many communicators demonstrate a poor or incomplete understanding of how their own organisation works – and how communication can be applied, strategically and tactically, to help achieve its goals.

So, they end up doing random communication – and subsequently struggle to demonstrate clear outcomes and business impacts because the communication was not conceived to solve specific issues and support specific goals.

What do you think of the so-called “vanity metrics”?

Vanity metrics have got a bad reputation because we have seen too many cases in the last decade where organisations tout their own success and just point to the number of press clippings, or social media fans, or even worse – Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE).

I think it is important to remember that a lot of what we like to call ‘vanity metrics’ still have merit – when we look at output metrics for example, they constitute an important step in the output-outtakes-outcome-impact value chain. That is to say, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

When I talk to clients about which metrics are relevant for them, I always try to outline the process of getting from simple outputs all the way to impact. This way, it feels much more like building on top of what they may already have been doing rather than starting over from scratch.

What kind of data/metrics are the most underrated today?

I am hesitant to make such a broad generalising claim, but I sometimes see clients so focused on outcomes and impact that they completely neglect to even look for the valuable insights that may be gathered from their output data. Let me give you a brief example:

I was in-house as head of press relations and some of the metrics we tracked were “frequency of spokesperson” and “frequency of brand message present in media publicity”. These two data points didn’t really provide any actionable value. So, I cross-indexed them to illustrate the “brand message penetration” average of each spokesperson.

What I found was quite revealing. It turned out that our most visible spokesperson – our CEO – was terrible at delivering the company’s three key brand messages. Only 23 percent of the time did he manage to ‘slip in’ a brand message during an interview. Our strategic business director, on the other hand, was ‘a natural’ – delivering at least one brand message on average 67 percent of the time – but we were using him nowhere near as much as the CEO.

That right there is an insight – an actionable piece of information that presented me with a choice: either get some media training for the CEO or start using our business director more. We decided to go with the later, and over the next six months our brand message penetration rates in the media skyrocketed

Where do you see the most promising future developments for the industry?

To me, this is a very exciting time to be working in professional communication because the future of our profession and industry seems very much up in the air at the moment.

We are still “fighting it out” with marketing over who should control the organisation’s social media (the answer is: both of us). But before that issue has even been settled, we now also see a trend where IT departments try to lay claim to ownership of all the organisation’s data. So now we as communicators must worry about that risk too.

This rift translates to outside the organisation as well, for while marketing, communication and IT are fighting over data ownership, you have specialised agencies trying to help each unit succeed with their agenda.

Management consultants, however, may actually be the ones who will come out on top eventually. They already have the ear and trust of top management – they speak the language of top management (impact and value creation) – and they are aggressively buying up creative agencies, PR agencies, advertising and digital agencies left and right and including them as part of their overall portfolio of services.

I spoke with the Middle East MD of a global PR agency last year, and he told me that agencies increasingly struggle with tenders for retainer contracts and RFP’s for campaigns no longer being offered by communication but by procurement departments. It is a notable difference because the communication departments’ approach is traditionally focused on creative and delivery/execution of tactics, while the procurement perspective is one traditionally orientated towards return-on-investment (RoI). That puts agencies under a very different kind of pressure to perform and it is a sign that procurement in general is being streamlined and communication is no longer allowed as much autonomy as before.

All this upheaval is closely linked to data, to results and thus to measurement and evaluation, which is why I think the overall trends in the industry are just as exciting to witness as the professional and technological developments on a more day-to-day tactical level.

*The “Journey of Maturity” described by Jesper Andersen:

At the far-left end of the spectrum, you have organisations that do not measure at all – not even with free data such as Google Analytics. It is impossible to know how many falls into this category, but a survey in Denmark in 2016 among communication professionals across a wide range of industries suggested 27 percent.
The next step on the ‘journey’ is typically the kind of organisations where the department head is worried about having to justify a budget or head count and therefore tries to give the impression of a very active department. The result is that they count their own productivity – how many releases were sent out, how many newsletters, how many customer magazines or stories on the intranet were published etc. It is fine to account for how resources are spent – but it has nothing to do with measuring the ‘effect of communication’.
Up next, we start to see organisations that want to measure their communication – and they typically start by looking at the quality of the work, rather than the end users. So, you have things like a public authority measuring the language difficulty of citizen-oriented messages to ensure that the public can understand (e.g. their tax returns or when to show up for a doctor’s appointment). Or you have a head of press relations tracking and measuring how well her brand message is penetrating into the publicity, she is generating in the media.
The next maturity step is actually looking at business results from communication – on Outcomes and Impact – and linking and aligning business goals with communication objectives.
Finally, on the far-right end of the spectrum, you have the organisations that are not only measuring to document results but are also analysing their data extensively for insights to further improve in the future and discover new opportunities.

Jesper produced an e-book capturing measurement best practice around the world, freely accessible from here.

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