Gorkana Meets…Jim Macnamara

Published: Jun 02, 2014

Professor Jim Macnamara, PhD is a Professor of Public Communication at University of Technology, Sydney. Macnamara is a special speaker guest at the AMEC International Summit taking place in Amsterdam next month. He will be delivering a Special Summit Address: A New Paradigm and Model for Measurement and Evaluation.

How did you become involved with AMEC?

I was invited to join AMEC from the very beginning because of my long interest in measurement and evaluation. I actually did my Masters degree by research in 1991-92 measuring the impact of PR on media. So that’s 22 years researching measurement and evaluation. And AMEC was kind enough to make me a Founding Fellow.

How has the industry changed since the introduction of the Barcelona Principles?

The industry hasn’t changed much yet – it takes a while for innovations to filter down. But the momentum has certainly increased and it was a very important milestone for the industry to finally come out and declare publicly that methods such as Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) are not a valid method of measuring the value of PR and that outcomes, not just outputs, need to be measured.

Why are goal setting and measurement necessary components of any PR program?

It is a very good question because goal setting, or setting objectives, is the basis of everything and it is good to mention that first. Almost every communication program I see has different objectives. When practitioners ask ‘what should I measure?’ the answer is written in your objectives. If you aim to create awareness, you need to measure awareness pre and post your PR activity. If you aim to create inquiries about a new product or service, record the number of inquiries and try to identify what prompted them to establish causation by your PR activity.

Why measure? Because, very simply, without it, practitioners have no evidence that what they did achieved the desired result. Even if you have anecdotal indicators of success, most organizations want reliable evidence – and why shouldn’t they, because they are often investing sizeable amounts of shareholders or taxpayers money? Unless you are a mind-reader, none of us can tell whether what we do is changing people’s perceptions, attitudes, or influencing their behavior.

What is stalling the rest of the PR and communication professionals from using PR measurement?

There are a number of reasons commonly given by practitioners in surveys. These are:

  • Lack of budget – but Walter Lindenmann, I and others have demonstrated that you can do some measurement with little or even no budget, such as self-administered surveys, DIY media analysis, and so on;

  • Lack of time – there are time pressures on practitioners, but as with everything in life, it is a matter of priorities;

  • Lack of standards – a number of surveys have found that practitioners are confused about different methods and metrics and want standards, so this is being addressed;

  • Some also say there is a lack of demand among employers – but I think this is because most measurement and evaluation simply looks backwards at what was done. There are two problems with this: first, it comes across as post-rationalization and self-justification which many managers are skeptical of, and second, it does not inform future organization strategy. The latter is what adds value and excites management, and I will be talking about this as one of the changes needed in my presentation to the International Summit on Measurement in Amsterdam. It is why ‘insights’ is featured in the theme of the Summit.

In addition, I believe there a couple of other barriers that have caused a continuing low level of rigorous measurement and evaluation including:

  • lack of knowledge of research methodology among practitioners – this is something that I believe both industry professional development programs and academics need to address; and

  • There has been a search for a silver bullet – a single magic formula that is easy and cheap to apply, ideally automated by some computer algorithm. Of course, such a thing is a myth. Different objectives, different outputs, and different outcomes clearly require a range of methods.

There are also at least two more barriers that I believe demand a new approach and, again, I will be talking about these at the Summit, so stay tuned.

What are a few major challenges that AMEC has been faced with this year?

I can’t speak for the organization, but keeping up the momentum is probably a key challenge. There has been a huge amount of effort put in by AMEC and also other organizations around the world such as the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and other bodies in Europe, the UK, US and elsewhere. But I have written in The Measurement Standard recently that the ‘march to standards’ is going to be a ‘long march’. There is no escaping the fact that some of the issues are complex – the psychology of human beings and the external sociocultural factors that influence them require knowledge of science and social science as well as the arts and humanities. And information has to filter down to a rather large industry around the world.

What does this year’s theme for AMEC’s International Summit in Amsterdam, “Upping the Game – from measurement to insights,” mean to you?

The industry has to lift and step up. It’s that simple. This is in no way meant to insult or criticize what has gone before. But every completed survey shows that PR and corporate communication are still not well understood and fully valued by management, practitioners struggle to do measurement and evaluation, and the status of the field is less than what practitioners would like.

What do you hope to achieve at the Summit this year?

I hope that my paper will stimulate thinking and rethinking. I am trying to take a step beyond where we have got to so far and highlight several endemic barriers that I believe are not recognized and suggest a new model for measurement and evaluation that can overcome these barriers and achieve progress. I also look forward to the dialogue with colleagues from around the world and learning from them.

Aside from measurement and evaluation, what are some developments within the PR industry that you believe will be beneficial to PR professionals?

I don’t think that developments ‘within’ the PR industry are the big issues. I see three ‘elephants’ in the bigger room of industry and society generally that are changing the media, social, cultural, and political landscape hugely and which PR needs to be involved in, if not leading. These are:

  • Social media – This is a super-heated topic of discussion, but when you look at actual implementation in and for PR, you find PR practitioners are mostly experimenting and trialling, few have deep knowledge of social media, often social media use is driven by marketing, and sadly these two-way interactive channels are being used mostly for one-way transmission of organization messages, not dialogue, conversations, or engagement. I believe PR should lead social media strategies of organizations, but this is often not the case;

  • Big data – We all hear about big data every day and this is very relevant to measurement and evaluation. If we have not yet got our heads around basic metrics and analytics and struggle with them, how are we going to participate in the emerging era of ‘big data’. Big data, in simple terms, is about processing and interpreting vast volumes of data that are available to gain insights. It requires solid skills in statistics, data mining, data analysis, and social science research methods. So that is one more reason that measurement and evaluation is one of the ‘big plays’ in PR;

  • The social organization and social business – We have to be cautious about hype, but another significant development is that leading business organizations are calling for fundamental change in the way business and organizations operate. Gartner has published a book called The Social Organization calling on companies as well as government organizations and NGOs to engage with and take a collaborative approach with their employees and stakeholders, and IBM has declared itself a ‘social business’. These concepts also include recognition of the need for businesses and organizations to consider and contribute to the needs of society rather than narrowly focus on their shareholders and self-interest.

These are three key developments in the early 21st century in which PR and corporate communication should be playing a lead role.

What prompted you to go into teaching?

It needs to be recognized that a senior academic position involves research as much or more than it does teaching. I enjoy teaching – particularly postgraduate students doing Masters degrees, who are mostly mid-career professionals. Because of my 30-year career in practice that included nine years in journalism and 15 years in marketing and corporate communication/PR, I feel I can give them academic knowledge and interpret it into practice in a way that makes their learning experience relevant.

But I also am particularly passionate about doing high level research. Before becoming an academic, I ran a research company for a decade (CARMA International Asia Pacific) and I found myself more and more drawn to doing in-depth rigorous research in areas such as measurement and evaluation and social media, which is very much needed in PR and corporate communication to build the knowledge base and credibility of the field.

What one thing do you want to accomplish by the end of 2014?

There’s never one thing that I want to achieve. I have a job list two pages long. By the end of this year, I will have my latest research book published – my third in four years. I will complete three years as Deputy Dean of my faculty, but I am likely to be appointed to another management role. Also, I have a major new research project on how organizations listen, or don’t, starting in collaboration with a number of European collaborators and I want to get that really moving, as I think it is a vitally important project. I’m finding the whole communication industry – advertising, PR, corporate communication, employee relations, community relations, etcetera – is predominantly focused on distributing information – that is speaking – and that there is relatively little by way of time, resources, technologies, or systems for listening to stakeholders. Speaking (voice) is only one half of communication and without listening it is monologue. We talk about dialogue, but how do we do it? I want to explore that further in some deep research.

What is your most prized possession?

My wife would say my Mercedes Benz car. But, deep down it is probably a large framed hand-tatted lace work that my mother made just before she died of cancer in 2002 and, even though my sisters inherited most of her personal items, she specifically gifted this to me. It hangs pride of place in my and my wife’s art collection. It is a beautiful piece.

What is the most interesting fact about you?

Others can best determine that. But one thing that seems to surprise people when they find out is that I came from very humble beginnings in terms of money and education. Few who know me today as a professor with four university qualifications including a PhD know that I left school two years before finishing to help out on the family’s struggling Outback farm because I was the eldest son. I got all of my university education studying part-time while I worked over almost 20 years. There were no silver spoons in my family and I think that built the foundation of my work ethic and grounded me.

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