Five Years After Barcelona, It’s Time to Measure Motive

June 16, 2015

When in PR circles I hear the word principles I wonder who’s invoking them and what’s at stake.

With the enshrinement of The Arthur W. Page Society’s Page Principles, I am hardened to a farce. These seven derived ditties are no more the work of the late, great CCO Arthur Page than the musings of Santa Claus. Read Mr. Page’s works closely and you’ll see his cunning as an architect of the rising AT&T monopoly and a master of the public playground.

Barcelona-Principles v2Having re-read the AMEC’s five-year-old standard in media metrics, the Barcelona Principles, I am equally wary. Similar to Page, they reflect a bias that deprives the practice of more useful measures. They support the myth that PR is an agent of good will and mutual benefit. At the same time they ignore its raw ability to navigate markets and position players, whether companies, celebrities, causes, policies, brands, reputations, products or services.

Accomplished pros, and many of them my friends, have ennobled a craft that is unregulated, un-licensed, and inherently in service to public manipulation. The pioneering Edward L. Bernays, who would admit to the propaganda beneath PR, is hardly their hero. After all, we could never have the Page Propaganda Principles or the Barcelona Manipulation Metrics.

Like any and every member of the influence industry, PR and communications exist to advance an idea or interest, never to inform or educate, not exclusively.  And never to collaborate, not without equal or greater benefit to the commissioning player.

Looking through a different lens is asking a lot of PR priests and scholars. Too many are committed to collaboration, symmetry, reputation, and other soft constructs. But if they are as honest about their work as the principles they promote, then it is the motives and moves behind PR that they’ll recognize and seek to measure. Consider these examples:

Dove’s Soap Job  In its campaigns for Dove, Unilever is keen to claim its support of aging women and, through the ostensibly rare benefits of this commodity soap, it celebrates and tries to deepen this customer relationship. But the benefit is not balanced and the intimacy is one-way. As well, the program would never be funded without the promise of increased market share and margin.

How should the success of the promotion be evaluated? Under today’s Barcelona Principles, Unilever might measure, among other things, the outcome – customer engagement – in quantity and quality over social and mainstream media.

But what Unilever should also measure is the extent to which it has achieved the strategic objectives that underlie the Edelman-inspired campaign. Two strategies in particular are being used, those that I refer to as the Recast and the Screen (see the Standard Table of Influence for more on these and 22 other strategies):

  • The Recast: Used to reposition the Dove brand for senior women. (def: To reorder and restate. The reinterpretation of an action, event, information, message, or symbol.)
  • The Screen: Used to invoke the issues and experiences of age and aging. (def:To play with a prop. The borrowing of issues, ideas, events, or symbols.)

Through gap analyses and detailed sub-ontologies the effects of these plays could be compared against a baseline. A significant difference in the recalled positive characteristics of Dove by older women would verify the Recast. Content analyses that connect the soap to age-based terms like “mature,” “senior” and “wrinkles” would confirm a well-run Screen.

Cruz Control  In politics, as in business, the motive is also what matters. Take the game of U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of a plethora of declared or declaring candidates for the U.S. presidency. Like Unilever, Cruz believes his cause is mutual and mighty, so, among other methods, he measures his followers, tweets, and retweets for proof of rhetorical control.

It would be better, however, to measure his influence strategies, because these are the impulses that inform his position and platform. For the pugnacious Cruz there are three—Peacock, Call Out and Bait. Read more about them here. Each is designed to provoke and each can be revealed with tuned algorithms applied to big data.

These are the plays he’s running. They are core to his motivations. So why not recognize and measure them?

The Skinny on Panera  If Dove is too much about marketing and Cruz too much about politics, consider the Dear America campaign by Panera Bread. The fast-casual dining chain isn’t shy about speaking out against obesity. But this is a company that’s all about bread—the starchy stuff that contributes to, not reduces, waistlines. While Panera might be inclined to measure sentiment or the free associations that customers make between Panera and, say, healthy food, the truer concept to measure is the degree to which the company escapes accusations of its double standard.

In The Standard Table, this points to the Red Herring, one of two diverting stratagems that draws a market’s attention away from a susceptibility. It’s not hard to measure. Red Herrings are simply about identifying how well or readily a focal player keeps stakeholders, especially detractors, from mentioning the bad news. Panera might prefer to measure happier things, no doubt, but the company’s need to avoid the negative is too obviously its central strategy.  And so it should be measured.

It’s time for the PR industry and its proxies in media metrics to face up to some simple facts:  What PR does is not inherently wonderful.  What it does is inherently strategic.  And what it measures should reflect the motives that truly propel it.

Post by Alan Kelly.  Image credit: AMEC.  This blog was first published here at the invitation of The Measurement Standard.