From Output to Outcome: Key trends at the 2017 AMEC Global Summit

AMEC (the International Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) held its 2017 Global Summit from 17–18 May in Bangkok, Thailand. As a representative of Isentia – the event’s headline sponsor, as well as the AMEC Communications Research & Measurement Company of the Year (for the third year in a row) – I was honored to attend the summit to learn the best practices and key industry trends from peers all over the world. Guest speakers and panelists presenting at the summit included experts, professionals and scholars from evaluation and measurement agencies, PR firms, research institutes, universities, PR associations, government agencies and multinational corporations from over 35 countries. Occupying different roles within the industry, the speakers shared their own experiences and best practice advice from different perspectives, providing a comprehensive overview of the entire industry of communications and PR evaluation. Here are a few trends that emerged from this year’s summit, which had as its theme “Disruptive Communication”.

Measurement and Evaluation of Communications is Booming in the Asian Market

The 2017 AMEC Summit was the first to be held in Asia, aside from the 2012 AMEC APAC Chapter Summit in Hong Kong. As historically many attendees have been US and UK based, the tremendous attendance demonstrated the enthusiasm and growing interest towards exploring the Asian market, especially the immense potential of China.

Furthermore, the numerous local agencies in Asia were also eager to exchange viewpoints with their international peers, and learn the latest developments and trends in measuring and evaluating communications, so that they could jointly drive the development of the industry. As tweeted by many at the summit ‘If you're leaving China today, you are actually going backwards’ – Khali Sakkas, Chief Executive, Insights at Isentia

Industry Trend: From Output to Outcome

As noted, the 2017 summit theme was “Disruptive Communication”, reflecting its focus on measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of PR efforts and communications in the age of disruption, as well as on providing insights in disruptive and innovative ways. With social media becoming the “new mainstream” media, the ability to provide prompt, in-depth, and accurate analysis on massive data sets is becoming crucial for supporting various decision-making processes. Every day, digital communications and the platforms and channels they occur on are evolving. To respond to these changes and innovations, monitoring, crawling, data mining, coding and analysis also need to evolve at the same pace, so as to track and evaluate what matters the most to the client, when it matters most to them.

One of the most frequently discussed trends at the summit was how the focus of the measurement and evaluation of communications is switching from tracking the outputs – such as volume of coverage and accumulated reach – to outcomes – such as changes in the target audience’s attitudes, perception and behavior – and even to evaluating the impact and influence of communications efforts on an entity’s organizational goals and communication objectives.

For many years, clients of media monitoring and analysis have often taken the direct output of PR efforts as their KPIs; for example, number of articles, share of voice, tonality, click-through rate, buzz volume, and AVE, most of which are quantitative measures that are automatically or semi-automatically collected during the monitoring process. These figures cannot comprehensively and accurately reflect the promotional effect or reputational enhancement of an organization’s PR efforts, nor represent the true value of these efforts; moreover, the accuracy of these metrics themselves are often called into question. Indeed, AMEC’s concerted efforts to eradicate the industry of AVEs were a recurrent topic at the conference. In order to provide a set of guidelines to drive a more efficient and effective measurement and evaluation of communications, AMEC launched the Barcelona Principles in 2010, which include guidelines such as, “Measuring the effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs”, “AVEs are not the value of public relations”, and “The effect on business results can and should be measured where possible.” To further promote the adoption of the Barcelona Principles, AMEC released its 2.0 version in September 2015. In 2016, the launch of AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework aimed to provide all practitioners of communication measurement and evaluation an integrated online platform for operationalizing the Barcelona Principles in their day-to-day work.

AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework is setting the standard for industry best practice

The Integrated Evaluation Framework was another hot topic at the summit. AMEC arranged several different sessions to demonstrate and promote the framework, encouraging all practitioners to adopt it as industry best practice. Case studies of real client projects were presented to show how to use the framework as a step-by-step guide when discussing clients’ communications campaigns and strategies, and for evaluating their effectiveness. Participants indicated strong interest in the framework, asking numerous questions at the Q&A session, which reflects that the framework has the potential to be widely adopted by the industry across the world. According to a survey by AMEC, the level of awareness of the Integrated Evaluation Framework has reached 100% in Latin America and Eastern Europe. Even in APAC, which has the lowest awareness level among all regions, the proportion has reached 76%. It is expected that more case studies on the application of the framework will be shared at the next summit.

The Integrated Evaluation Framework developed by AMEC is composed of seven modules, covering the entire communications process from planning and execution, to evaluation. It can be used by measurement and evaluation professionals as a handy tool for in-depth discussions with their clients on their PR efforts and by communications professionals at the strategic level. Firstly, the communications objectives are linked to the entity’s organizational objectives at the Objective module, so as to ensure that the communications objectives are in line with and contribute to the ultimate goals of the entity, which should be the foundation of all good PR efforts. The following Inputs and Activity modules define the preparations and resources needed, as well as the activities planned, in order to achieve the communications objectives. The four remaining modules help measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the activities at different levels, including: 1) the Outputs generated by the activities; 2) the changes in attitudes, viewpoints, and behaviors by target audiences, known as Outtakes; 3) the effect on brand awareness and publicity, known as Outcomes; and 4) the Impact on broader operational performance and organizational objectives.

The role played by measurement and evaluation agencies is changing

With more and more agencies realizing the limitation of focusing on outputs, abandoning metrics with less value such as volume and AVE, and switching to outcomes and impacts as recommended by the Integrated Evaluation Framework, another trend is emerging gradually: the role played by measurement and evaluation agencies is evolving from one where they monitor media, collect data and summarize findings, to one where they strategically assist with communications, providing clients with more a valuable, professional consulting service. Measurement and evaluation agencies will play a more important role in helping clients set their communications strategy and plan PR campaigns, and will dynamically work with clients to adjust their communications strategies and tactics in a timely, data-driven way. Helping the client align their communications objectives with organizational objectives, these agencies will play a more critical role in optimizing the utility and effect of communications campaigns so that PR and communications can better support and contribute to their organizations’ overall development goals.

From communications measurement to marketing mix modeling

The rapid scientific and technological development we are seeing not only benefits us all in day-to-day life, but also provides enriched and innovative platforms and approaches for brand building, communications, marketing and advertising, which presents new challenges and opportunities for measurement and evaluation agencies. As a result, another trend in the near future is that it may not be sufficient for some high-end clients to measure and evaluate their communications efforts in isolation. In order to achieve optimal brand communications so as to drive the growth of business (sales), enterprises usually adopt a comprehensive portfolio of PR and communications efforts, marketing campaigns and advertising placements. As a result, evaluating the effect of PR and communications alone would not be sufficient to help clients understand the ideal mix for maximizing the overall effect of all these efforts combined. At the summit, some agencies outlined how they have begun to offer marketing mix modeling services, whereby they analyze and quantify the contribution to sales increases and brand equity enhancements by each effort in the fields of communications, marketing and advertising, through creating econometric models. The service goes beyond PR, media relations and communications, providing clients with high-end strategic consulting services based on big data analysis.

The AMEC Global Summit is held annually for experts and practitioners in the field of PR and communications evaluation and measurement to gather together to share the progress and achievements they have made, and the new ideas and best practices they have come up with and applied. It presents participants with a fantastic opportunity to learn and keep themselves abreast of the latest trends in the industry. More importantly, we need to think about how to adopt and apply the new ideas and best practices in our daily work, in consideration of the unique conditions of each market and client, so as to provide clients with the highest standards and most valid measurement and evaluation services, with insights that they can truly act on. In the digital age with rapid changes happening every day, practitioners in the field of communications measurement and evaluation need to proactively accommodate the changes in PR and communications with an open mind and a spirit of innovation, driving the development of entire industry.

by Shan Chengjun
Analysis Director, Isentia - North Asia in Insights.

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