PR Measurement: Interview with Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic

PR Measurement is fast becoming a hot topic of conversation among PR practitioners.

“Measurement has to be a focus for PR.  In the digital world everyone has to start to look at the metrics to help them drive strategy.”

Eileen Sheil, Executive Director of Communications at the Cleveland Clinic.

This is an interview with Eileen Sheil about the changes in the practice of PR and the need for measuring the value of our work.

SF:  You recently made a comment that PR measurement has changed. What is your take on that – what has changed and why has it changed?

ES: Understanding the true value of PR on the bottom line of your organization and its impact on the business is really important. And it allows PR professionals to demonstrate that value to the leadership. Back in the day we used to look at ad value and try to assign some kind of valuation for PR that really wasn’t accurate.

Looking at the Barcelona Principles is a key factor in how to approach measurement. We need to understand that it’s a journey – but it’s a journey that PR professionals have to be willing to jump in and try.

SF: Last time I spoke to a group of PR people about measurement only about a quarter of the audience had heard of the Barcelona Principles.

ES:  As an industry we have to do a better job of educating people who are coming into PR and help them understand the importance of measurement and really looking at research, developing insights and strategy, what’s the right creative approach.  It all has to be based on a meaningful strategy that accomplishes business objectives.

The Barcelona Principles and AMEC, the Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communications are great resources.  AMEC’s website has a framework that’s really key to helping people understand what PR measurement is all about.

SF:  You have recently made a lot of changes to the Cleveland Clinic newsroom that was part of your new approach to measurement.  Why is the newsroom so important?

ES:  Well, communications teams can take a more traditional approach working with the news media, which I do think is still absolutely critical, but as the media is changing dramatically we have to figure out what is the most effective way to get our story out and get it out in the way that we really want to tell it.

We will always continue to work closely with the media because it still brings that very powerful third party validation, but PR people are being pushed to do more news content strategy – figuring out how to get their story out more broadly to amplify the message.  So our newsroom on was designed to host some of the at news content that is unique to the Cleveland Clinic focusing on innovation and our mission of clinical excellence, education and research. We really want it to be a ‘go-to’ source for journalists where can find and pull down assets directly from the Cleveland Clinic to make sure that they have what they need to write their story.

SF: One of the Barcelona Principles is that we should be measuring outcomes, not just outputs. How have you implemented this principle?

ES:  Well, my boss asked me the other day for the final number of stories that ran in 2017 and I said “I’m sorry, we don’t count those anymore.”  He was a bit shocked, but I explained I care more about quality than quantity. The real answer is I care about both, but we are very focused on the outcome of the story. What impact did it have on patient volume, how many phone calls did we get and what happened to the other metrics that are driven by PR?

We’re trying to move away from counting media hits to metrics that really matter to us.  Quantity certainly does help, but we want to focus on the targeted message to the right audience and really own that story. It needs to be the most powerful, meaningful and educational piece we can put out there.

What’s important to us is that we focus more on that quality story and what is the outcome of our efforts.  That makes it easier to demonstrate the value on the organization.

If I have a front page story on the first-ever deep brain stimulation on a stroke patient and how that medical innovation was able to improve that patient’s quality of life, that’s worth more than a piece with Cleveland Clinic and six other institutions said this or that.

We actually take it a step further and score every story. We grade it from negative 100 to positive 100.  Right now we’re hovering around 60 – 80.

We have a specific algorithm for quality scoring — are we in the headline, was our physician quoted throughout the story, did we get our message in there about patient experience, quality and innovation?

SF:  What advice would you give to someone just graduating and entering the PR profession?  In terms of a career boost and a career path, what would you tell them to do?

ES:  I think measurement has to be a focus.

We joke around on our team that we have left-brain thinkers and right-brain thinkers. The right brains are more creative and we’re trying to force the usage of our left brain, which is not comfortable for PR people.  They tend to not like the numbers and not like the analytics.  But in the digital world everyone has to start to look at the metrics to help them drive strategy.

So I would say get internships that are will help you move along in your career that will give you exposure to more of the business side of public relations and how your work affects the business, because it really does.  Learn as much as you can.

There are a lot of organizations that focus on measurement, there are conferences and meetings too. You can learn a lot from other industries and see case studies on what they’re doing around measurement and steal their ideas.

Our thanks to Eileen for her time and insights about PR Measurement.

If you are interested in learning more about PR measurement register for the course launching at the end of March.


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