MRP… Let’s not lose sight of the end result

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So…. MRP… (otherwise known as the Media Relations Rating Points System)

First off, rather than me fill you in about what MRP is about (in case you didn’t already know), you can find out more about it here, and you can read their informative and extremely balanced blog here.

But back to me… 

I guess I’m of two minds about it (and I’ve now sat through two presentations). Yes, on the one hand, it adds an element of science to a profession that desperately needs it. And yes, smart people that the MRP folks are, they don’t position it as something it’s not – meaning the ‘Holy Grail’ of PR measurement. On the other hand, I’m slightly nervous that MRP could, in the wrong hands, diminish the perceived and/or real ‘value’ that good PR can deliver to clients – whether client-side or agency.

Why do I say this? (Note: these opinions are my own and may not reflect the opinions of everyone at H&K)

Don Bartholomew at CGI touches on similar concerns in his initial analysis of MRP, as does Jim Gruning of the University of Maryland in his summary outlined in KD Paine’s blog here. My point being that MRP – for all its good intentions – could easily become a crutch for those in the PR profession who have neither the time, budget, nor analytical capacity to recognize MRP for what it is, what role it plays, and where it fits within our profession.

Without question, it fits. But lets not sugarcoat it unnecessarily. (I should make a point of crediting the MRP team for acknowledging specific shortfalls from the outset, and also their enthusiasm in responding to both well-intentioned and not-so-well-intentioned criticism following the launch of the tool.)

In the parlance of marketing communications, cost-per-contact is a giant leap forward over traditional ad equivalency metrics and a useful ‘cost-oriented’ standards based metric (to use Bartholomew’s definition) for comparing PR to, say, advertising in terms of being able to reach the largest number of consumers at the lowest possible cost.

But for many other areas of our business, cost-per-contact is virtually meaningless – and potentially damaging. For companies facing downsizing, facility closures, acquisitions, changes in leadership, proxy battles, or some combination of these and others, cost-per-contact plays no role in the measurement equation. Media is still a critical element in communicating through many of these issues. However, the real measurement is the ability to demonstrate how effective media relations helped neutralize detractors, mobilize allies, or educate stakeholders.

Many in the PR profession get this. Many others do not. As the MRP folks have themselves admitted, the primary features of the tool are its ability to accurately determine what it costs to reach a specific number of eyeballs, and to provide a system that gives a communications team an ability to provide qualitative analysis of that coverage. What it doesn’t do is provide any capacity to measure the real impact of that outreach and analysis – did it impact sales, did it change perception, did it drive an action or prevent an action, etc. 

And the MRP team know this. Nonetheless, this, in my view, is where the danger lies for our profession. That we can now provide more accurate information regarding specific activities is, without question, a good thing. However, we must constantly be striving to deliver on the bigger metrics and business outcomes. Let me be clear, this is less a criticism of the tool and more a call to action to our profession to avoid – at all costs – the desire to make this tool something that even its creators profess it isn’t.

Which leads us to the point-rating element. Personally, I think Bartholomew gets it wrong when he asks “Are all MRP’s the same?” Who cares? In the end, does it matter if I use an MRP rating or any other kind of rating, so long as whatever I use is agreed upon in advance between myself and the client depending on their specific objectives, and that it makes sense to their business.

And that is a vitally important consideration, and one that H&K has – for the most part – recognized. So long as there is clarity in terms of expectations set at the outset of any program between the client and his communications, and that appropriately agreed-upon measures are put in place to validate those expectations, what more do you need?

So yes, to some degree Andrew Laing of Cormex is right when he claims that “MRPs are simply a way to let the Canadian PR firms continue to grade their own homework.” That’s true, but only if the client isn’t involved in defining the parameters of each of the rating criteria. H&K’s experience has demonstrated that criteria and systems for measurement cannot be created in isolation from the client.

Equally, and where we often fall short, we need to be more precise in terms of setting tangible objectives – Let’s not just say that we’re going to “generate buzz” or “drive awareness”, let’s say that we’re going to “increase awareness by 10% within a specific target group over a specific period” and then let’s tell them that we’re going to do this, in part, by achieving X million impressions and an MRP score of 85% or higher.” (In addition to all the other things we’re going to do)

Quite simply, we don’t all have the same start or finish line. Each client measures PR differently because their situations and objectives are different. Those who choose to measure by cost-per-contact will love this system. It’s cost-effective, easy to use, and standards-based in terms of audited numbers. And if the point-rating criteria allows us to establish a more qualitative benchmark against which to measure quality of coverage, then the MRP is as good as any. But let us not forget that when we tell our client that we hit 1 million eyeballs at a cost of 0.02 per eyeball, and that we scored a MRP of 82%, and they ask what impact that had on their business… we can’t afford not to have those answers.



Katie Paine

Brilliant! Obviously I totally agree, but I love the way you framed the discussion, thank you.



David Jones

The perfect analysis of what MRP is and isn’t.  Your conclusion is right on the money.

I’ve always held on to the belief that ad agencies who research things up the wazoo take lots of credit when sales go up after a new campaign, but never take credit when sales go down after a new campaign.  

The PR industry needs to keep searching for the holy grail.  With thinking and analysis like yours, perhaps you’d want to join our little group of Monty Python knights at our round table?



Brendan Hodgson

Katie / David… thanks to both of you for your kind assessment of my analysis. And David, of course, I’d be delighted to participate.  



Brendan Hodgson

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