OP-ED: A different perspective can be key to demonstrating ROI

Surveys among PR and corporate communication practitioners suggest that cost, lack of demand, and lack of time are the three main reasons that measurement is not carried out. However, closer analysis reveals four other factors need to be addressed that can provide the keys to breaking through and showing the effectiveness and ROI of PR and corporate communication.

Surveys among PR and corporate communication practitioners suggest that cost, lack of demand, and lack of time are the three main reasons that measurement is not carried out. However, closer analysis reveals four other factors need to be addressed that can provide the keys to breaking through and showing the effectiveness and ROI of PR and corporate communication.

  • Numeric not rhetoric. The first real barrier is a simple occupational characteristic. Worldwide, the ranks of PR and corporate communication practitioners are filled primarily with arts and humanities professionals with rhetoric skills in classical Greek terms (writing, speaking, visual images, etc). By comparison, senior management is composed primarily of numeric-orientated professionals - accountants, finance executives, sales-focused marketing managers, engineers, scientists, and technologists. The language of senior management is numbers. PR and corporate communications pros need to learn that long-written or verbally presented reports with subjective and anecdotal information hold little weight with numerically orientated management. Communicators need to acquire the skills and tools, or outsource specialist help, to quantify what they do and what they achieve for their organizations.
  • Outcomes not just outputs. The second real barrier that practitioners need to address is in understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes, along with the importance of showing evidence of the latter. Outputs, as the term suggests, are the myriad things that communicators produce, such as news releases, publications, events, web pages, and so on. Management wants outcomes which may be attitudinal. These include increased awareness, changed perceptions or attitudes, or behavioral results such as making an inquiry, trying or buying a product, getting fit, or voting a certain way. However, PR and corporate communication practitioners spend up to 90% of their time - sometimes 100% - focused on producing and reporting outputs such as listing news releases issued, journalists called, events arranged, and so on. Even a pile of press clippings is an output, unless data is provided on messages reaching key audiences and likely or actual audience effects.
  • Get SMART objectives. The third real barrier to showing results of communication is a lack of SMART objectives - that is objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a key to proving effectiveness and ROI. Truly specific objectives contain numbers, percentages, and dates. "Increase employee understanding" is not a SMART objective. It is not measurable as no specific target is nominated. "Gain a minimum of 70% employee understanding of the company's policies by X date" is specific and measurable. This target can be measured using a survey to evaluate employee understanding at the appropriate time. SMART objectives often require that overarching organizational objectives that are shared by many departments be broken down into sub-objectives that are relevant and achievable for PR and corporate communication.
  • It's timing as well as technique. The fourth real barrier to demonstrating true ROI is overcoming the dated concept that measurement is something done at the end. Post-program evaluation provides no benchmark for comparison. It provides no interim data to convince upper management to approve plans in the first place and show that programs are on track. It provides no early indication of problems so that strategies can be changed if necessary. It also may be difficult, expensive, or even impossible if measurement has not been built into planning with SMART objectives from the outset. The time to plan and begin measurement is at the start. The smartest communicators measure existing audience awareness and attitudes, as well as their needs and concerns, before starting programs, providing a benchmark for later comparison and strategic information for planning. Then they track progressively at regular intervals, giving themselves early warning of any problems and opportunities to adjust strategy, and providing management with regular milestones. There is considerable specialist advice to help PR and corporate communication pros plan and implement measurement. The following are just some of the resources available:
  • The Institute for Public Relations in the US (www.instituteforpr.com) publishes expert papers and latest research in PR and corporate communication.
  • www.measuresofsuccess.com is a website and a regular e-newsletter packed with advice, tips, and resources for measuring PR and corporate communication.
  • The UK Institute of Public Relations PR Evaluation Toolkit is a comprehensive manual with guidelines and linked resources available through the IPR at www.ipr.org.uk under "Publications."
  • www.masscom.com.au offers free papers and advice on measurement, as well as commercial products.
  • Jim Macnamara is the head of CARMA International's Asia-Pacific office

    Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Register
    Already registered?
    Sign in

    Would you like to post a comment?

    Please Sign in or register.