2017 has been a ground-breaking year for AMEC in the Asia Pacific region with the AMEC International Summit coming to Asia for the very first time. In order to celebrate AMEC Measurement Month, the AMEC APAC Chapter gathered some of the region’s leading experts for a fireside chat about the latest trends and challenges for the measurement and communications industry.

Sitting around our symbolic fireplace:

Moderator and fire warden: Khali Sakkas, Chief Executive, Insights & Research, Isentia, AMEC Board Member, @khalic
Aseem Sood, CEO, Impact Research & Measurement Pvt. Ltd. AMEC Board Member, @aseemsood
Jim Macnamara, PhD, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC, FPRIA, Professor of Public Communication, University of Technology Sydney, @jimmacnamara
Marion McDonald, Chief Strategy Officer, Asia Pacific Region, Ogilvy Public Relations @thatmarion
Reuben Aitchison, Manager – Insights and Analysis, Mediaverse, @ReubzOz
Ruth Pestana, Director, Strategic Planning and Insights, KGRA Asia, @ruthpestana
Steffen Egelund, CEO, Media Track, @SteffenEgelund

Khali: Welcome everyone to part one of our fireside chat. Let’s start by reflecting on the AMEC Global Summit held in Bangkok during May. Ruth, this was your first AMEC Summit after moving back to Asia, what was your highlight?

Ruth: For me, a highlight of the Summit was the emphasis on moving beyond vanity metrics towards more actionable insights and analytics. Proving the part that communications has played in moving the business forward is always going to be a key role for measurement programmes, but there needs to be a shift towards also using the results to inform future communications.

Today’s most successful disruptors operate in a “test-and-learn” model. Communications departments across all organisation types need to adopt this approach, using insights and evaluation as part of an iterative cycle to constantly improve strategy and execution. The Summit showcased the work of several organisations taking this approach. From multinational firms, to government departments and not-for-profit associations, we heard case studies from organisations using evaluation programs for more than just a pat on the back. Among them were several strong examples from APAC, which provided not only great learnings, but also encouragement for the industry here to keep raising the bar.

Khali: I agree, the summit certainly highlighted the benefits of moving beyond output metrics and provided great case studies to demonstrate how organisations can make this move. For me, the AMEC Summit helps to connect us to a global network. It is a great opportunity to share knowledge and make friends. Steffen, what do you love most about the summit and being an AMEC member?

Steffen: First and foremost we are able to share know-how and trends within our community. Our company is filled with bright heads, but sometimes it is good to exchange experiences with other people from other companies, universities, clients and so forth. Once a year it all comes together at the annual AMEC conference, which is a fantastic dish of information, connections and inspiration – all served up with a jolly good time as well.

Khali: Ha! You’re right – it is a fantastic dish of all of those elements – such fun.  I find inspiration each and every year. There will always be a case study or a new trend that shapes my thinking and our future products. The Summit showcases the latest trends in measurement and evaluation and it is always interesting to examine what the future holds for our industry. Jim, what do you see as the next “big thing” in measurement?

Jim: There are several “big things” to address in measurement of communication. First, shift focus to evaluation, not just measurement. Management wants to see value – not just numbers. Identifying where and how value is created requires (a) interpretation of data and (b) often the triangulation of multiple data sets including qualitative as well as quantitative data and data beyond media data (e.g., audience surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.).

Beyond this simple but important conceptual shift, “big data” is the most significant issue facing government and industry. Big data is both an opportunity and a threat. We have more data available than ever before in history. If big data sets can be analysed intelligently and ethically, they can provide insights never before available. On the other hand, organisations can drown in “big data”. To use another analogy, without analysis, big data sets are like mountains of ore. It is the gold and silver and diamonds in the ore that are valuable – not the raw data. Big data requires a lot of refinement through analysis to glean insights and intelligence and make sense of it.

Khali: What a great analogy! Whether we are working with big data or small data, I feel like our analysts are in constant search of the gold, silver and diamonds. Aseem, what’s the next “big thing” from your perspective?

Aseem: Technological advancements in Natural Language Processing combined with Machine Learning will have a huge impact on the measurement industry. It will offer several benefits which will be hard to ignore – speed, large volume analysis, longer range trend assessment, better accuracy, automated discovery of new issues etc.

But all this will require a lot of investment. To prepare, every measurement firm will have to focus on three things – (1) Change/ invest in technology (2) Change/ improve skillset of its staff and (3) Change mindset – from an expert-based mindset to a more learning-oriented mindset that is objective and data driven.

Khali: Such an interesting time to be part of the industry. It has certainly become a lot more reliant on technology to do the heavy lifting with data than in the early days. Reuben, with so much change, I’m interested to hear your thoughts on which communications trend is having the biggest impact on your business?

Reuben: Immediacy. More corporate affairs teams are taking on responsibility for social media, and as they do, the dynamic changes. The focus shifts from measuring what has happened to what is being said – the conversation – and it happens in real time.

We are seeing more and more clients who are managing issues, educational campaigns and broader reputation looking at things from a digital first perspective, and the real-time nature of digital channels leads to a requirement for more immediacy in understanding the dynamic of the conversation.

Weekly and daily analysis and reporting comes into play, with clients wanting to keep track of the nature and focus of the conversation, so they can anticipate, respond and influence effectively. They also need to know what is resonating with others in the conversation, and not just in terms of messaging or narrative. How are they getting and sharing their information? Are links, memes, infographics or video content getting greater reach and engagement, and how does that differ by stakeholder group and platform? What is the cross-channel flow – are certain issues or viewpoints moving from traditional to social channels, or is it the other way around?

It is an exciting and dynamic shift that makes for a closer relationship with highly engaged clients.

Khali: Now a big question for Professor Jim Macnamara. Jim, you’ve got such a unique perspective of our industry, I’m interested to hear what communications trends are having an impact on your organisation right now and what this means for communicators and researchers?

Jim: I think it is important to mention a macro level trend and a micro level one. At a macro level, developed Western societies have transitioned from Modernism to Postmodernism. While that is a broad philosophical trend beyond this discussion, it has specific practical implications that are relevant to communication and media. For example, in 19th and 20th century Modern societies, people were less educated, less connected beyond their families, villages, and suburbs, and put their trust in authorities such as experts and institutions – e.g., scientists, priests, and government. Today, people are more educated and globally connected to multiple sources of information, and they have been let down by many of those they trusted in the past. For example, despite all our science, we find we are destroying our planet. Corruption plagues even the Church. Politicians sent us to war in the Middle East based on “doctored” intelligence (i.e., lies). Today, audiences are cynical and trust in experts, business, government, and media has plummeted. The most trusted source of information today for most people is their peers. So communicators have to recalibrate how they go about informing and persuading audiences. The old methods don’t work.

Khali: The trust equation has undoubtedly changed the game for communicators. What do you see on a micro level?

Jim: At a specific or micro level, a key trend affecting communication and media is the blurring of traditional boundaries between fields of practice such as advertising, PR, direct marketing, digital and social, and so on. For example, advertising agencies are doing “native advertising”. Everything is digital. Traditional industry boundaries are siloes of practice that are no longer relevant. People get information from multiple sources. In evaluation we have to understand this and learn to identify causality – what works; what is having the most effect from the myriad sources and forms of information available. We can’t just measure PR or advertising or websites.

Khali: This blurring of traditional boundaries is happening and it is challenging the way we measure and interact with our clients. Integration of these fields is potentially the biggest change research companies are responding to right now. I feel that this trend isn’t occurring at the same pace in all markets though. Reuben, what do you see from Australia?

Reuben: There is some marketing and communications cross-over evident in the market, but in most cases it is tied into the ownership of social shifting to communications/corporate affairs. This increases the interest in developing, seeding and tracking content, which is leading to a requirement for metrics more traditionally aligned with marketing campaigns.

The great thing about such integration is the experience of marketing teams in measurement and the established metrics. For years, marketing teams have been measuring outputs and outcomes (reach, OTS, brand recall) and linking them directly to Impact measures (sales, leads generated, in-bound call volumes, conversion rates etc.). And in every company I have worked as a communications professional, the marketing team always had many times the budget for measurement than the poor PR team did.

The Bonus? A significant measurement challenge in the past has been how to separate out and measure the impact a PR campaign had versus the (often enormous) above and below the line marketing activity. Integrated teams make this less of an issue.

Khali: Yes, so true! There are a lot of bonuses to breaking down siloes and working in an integrated way. Marion, you have spoken on the topic of integration and I know that you work extensively with integrated teams. What are you seeing in this space?

Marion: There is now a much greater interest from communications professionals to prove that PR is a low cost revenue generation centre, not simply a cost centre. This has lead to many more requests in the past 12 months to guide our clients to smarter measurement frameworks and business metrics.

 In my view, most marketers have a better business impact story to sell than they ever dreamed and need to be more aggressive about proving it. The majority just don’t know how, yet proving the impact of earned media on business results is their smartest path to secure essential funding. I would estimate a mere 25% of marketers understand this, so there is a clear role for AMEC in advancing the AMEC Integrated Measurement Framework, https://amecorg.com/amecframework/

 We need more CMO’s with confidence in earned media and that requires a simple way of summarizing business goals, strategies, earned media touch points across the PESO model and capturing their business impact. 

Khali: So, by extension, the role of the media analyst/researcher has become more complex and dynamic, but the need to provide insight, context and business impact remains crucial. Ruth – all this must have an impact on how we recruit and train our people. I’m interested in what you look for when recruiting for measurement and research roles?

Ruth: In the agency world, it is vitally important that a researcher has the ability to apply research in the context of communications. No matter how good their research skills are, if our researchers can’t interpret the research through a marketing or PR lens, then they cannot help our clients. I look for people that are “data-smart”.

They need to know which data is relevant to the problem, how to get it and how to convert it into effective solutions. I also look for someone who can effectively form a bridge between the research and clients who might otherwise find data overwhelming and avoid it, or who might misinterpret data and use it incorrectly.

Curiosity is another key attribute that I value. A good researcher is always going to ask “why” and interrogate the data to make sense of it. But I also look for someone who is curious about the greater world that we live in, and who seeks to understand how people are different or similar from one “tribe” to another. I need team members that are both left brain and right brain, and can think open-mindedly across the multicultural, economically diverse APAC landscape that we operate in.

SteffenTechnology is changing the role of the media analyst. For instance, how do we code written content, when the combined content published the last 9 months is more than what was published the previous 2000 years?

The sheer amount of information available today poses a threat to our industry, but it also poses a huge opportunity. It becomes more and more important to be able to give that clear and precise overview that our clients are paying us to do. Another way technology is changing the role of media analysts are the new tools available to us. By using Natural Language Processing, A.I. and machine learning tools, we are able to process a lot more information than we were previously. If we are able to master the latter and fully utilise the new tools, we will also be able to overcome the first challenge: the increasing amount of information.

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