Tying measurement to mission is critical for nonprofits

To elevate the importance of measurement, a nonprofit should consider tying its PR efforts more strongly to its cause.

Can PR be tied to elements beyond news clips, reputation, awareness, and patient volume to evaluate the impact of media coverage on philanthropy, volunteerism, recruitment of great talent, employee engagement as well?

Yes. Measuring the value of PR is important for all companies, but can be especially challenging for nonprofits. In healthcare, for example, we never know when a potential patient will need medical care, unlike the direct sales of a product by a manufacturer.

In healthcare, for example, we never know when a potential patient will need medical care, unlike the direct sales of a product by a manufacturer.

Over the past five years, Cleveland Clinic has worked hard to measure how PR drives national awareness and patient volume. We developed our narrative to be more consistent with telling our story and used research to determine target audiences most likely to travel to the Clinic for care and focused on media markets where these targets live. We focus on quality and quantity of coverage and score each story with a special algorithm to measure how well we're reaching our target audiences with the right messages in the right markets.

Recently, we've been able to identify a strong correlation of PR activities related to patient revenue. In addition, we've also been able to show that social media, especially Twitter and YouTube, are even more strongly correlated. However, correlation does not mean causation. There's more work that needs to be done.

A key thing to remember is that measuring public relations is a journey. It doesn't happen overnight. It's a lot of work, well worth it, and quite exciting, actually. We've demonstrated that getting the right message to the right audience - at the right time - does make a difference.

According to our reputation research, we know that the more people know about the Cleveland Clinic, the more likely they will travel to receive care here. This helps to drive our PR strategy and demonstrate the outcomes of our efforts. Our next step will be to try and correlate our efforts around the impact of PR related to dollars raised for important clinical programs, volunteers recruited for key events, and other potentially measurable parts of our business.

I am fortunate to co-chair the nonprofit group, The International Association of the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication. We're interested in moving PR measurement among non-profits forward and helping connect professionals to the free tools available to help.

Click here for more information about AMEC. 

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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