Getting inside the brain of Shonali Burke



Posted: In: Blogs Interviews

There are PR folks who get it; then there are PR folks who get it. Shonali Burke falls into the latter category.

As the CEO of a PR business, Shonali is:

#1 – A self-professed measurement + social media geek and constantly champions PR measurement (no wonder we love her).

#1 – An educator dropping knowledge on future public relations pros at Johns Hopkins University.

#2 – A PR conversationalist extraordinaire: as such she hosts the monthly Twitter   chat (on which I will be the featured guest tomorrow from 12-1pm ET #shamelessplug).

After running into Shonali at nearly every PR Measurement related event in 2014, I figured it was high time to transfer the knowledge from her brain onto digital paper and share accordingly.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy a peek into the wonderfully informed mind of Shonali Burke.

Photo by Cade Martin Photography

Rebekah Iliff: You’ve talked for years about “smart measurement” that is outcome focused. Give us a peek into the Burke brain: What’s an example of a recent objective you and your team identified and how did you work backwards from that goal to identify the associated KPI?

Shonali Burke: We recently wrapped a project with a client in the education space; they were launching a new online offering. Registrations were the ultimate goal, and they were using campaign tracking in Google Analytics very well. What we did was to ensure the creation of tracking links to the relevant page, so that we could attribute visits and conversions from our efforts – our strategy had a mix of earned, owned and paid media – as accurately as possible.

Based on traffic and conversion trends, we could see what worked (social and paid) and what didn’t so much (focusing on location too narrowly as opposed to niche and interest). That allowed us to pivot our strategy midway through the campaign and put more muscle behind what *was* working as opposed to what wasn’t… and ultimately reach the goal.

RI: Love the integrated approach. It is so important for PR peeps (and clients for that matter) to think beyond earned media. Given your propensity for metrics, what’s the one thing every PR pro needs to know about PR measurement as 2014 rolls to a close?

SB: There is no silver bullet.

RI: True dat. With that in mind, PR pros need to think carefully about how they measure and quantify their efforts. What are 2 of your favorite tools that assist you in providing your clients with smart measurement?

SB: I actually have three: Microsoft Excel (or Google Spreadsheets), Google Analytics… and the one thing we all have and should use – a brain.

RI: Ahhhh, yes. The almighty brain. Since you are constantly talking about PR measurement and metrics, what’s one thing you keep hearing yourself say over and over again that you wish the industry would just “get”?

SB: I said it before, so don’t shoot me – “there is no silver bullet” (see what I did there?). Though not using AVEs might be first. It’s weird we are still having to talk about that, isn’t it?

RI: AVE’s are like the stage five clinger. Beat it already! Speaking of moving on: During AMEC this year, you cautioned PR pros to be aware of the evolution of metrics (Don’t just take old metrics and put them into new contexts). Where can PR pros look to discover new ways of evolving old metrics into meaningful measurement?

SB: Smart blogs like this one. 🙂

I have to give props to industry bodies like PRSA, IABC, IPR & AMEC that do so much to bring educational opportunities to practitioners; and we should all be taking advantage of them. There are several bloggers who write extremely thoughtfully on measurement, and doing a decent search will bring up most, if not all, of them.

Then there are Twitter chats and events like #measurePR (1st Tuesday of every month, 12-1 pm ET). Certainly many companies in the metrics SaaS space are coming up with interesting ways of looking at data, but I would caution folks to not get caught up by their “shiny new” features… check them out independently, as well as in the context of the history of PR measurement, to see if what they are preaching is what we should be teaching.

RI: I’m 100% on board with moving PR from vanity metrics to value driven measurement. What’s another vanity metric PR pros should begin to turn away from and what metric should take its place?

SB: I don’t think vanity metrics are all bad; the problem is when they are used or cited without context. Sometimes an overwhelming number of impressions is indicative of something really big… but you will only know that if you are aware of the context. So to me, context is critical, regardless of the metric.

RI: Name 3 content sources you turn to on a regular basis for inspiration, education, and thought-provoking entertainment.

SB: These days Facebook seems to fulfill all three! It’s hard to name just three, and I consume a lot of content through several channels… so it’s also hard to segment content v. channel. But if I have to name just three, I’d say Mark Schaefer’s {grow} blog, theSkimm (disclosure: I’m a Skimmbassador and I get warm and fuzzies if you click through that link to sign up), and Amazon Prime Instant Video (Alpha House FTW).

RI: Thanks for all the amazing insights and for letting me pick your brain. Can’t wait to see what you having cooking for 2015!


You can learn more about Shonali here. follow her on Twitter here, and don’t forget to join us for #measurePR tomorrow at 9am PST, 12pm EST!