Even though good communications is vital to every organization's success, we still agonize over measuring the effectiveness of our programs and justifying the money spent on PR.
So, is your organization getting the most out of its communications dollars? The odds are that either you aren't sure, have set up unrealistic goals or measurement tactics, or the C-suite is skeptical.
There really is no off-the-shelf, cookie-cutter solution for every organization to follow. But, with the help of some straightforward guidelines, you can identify the correct answer for your company.
Look for a return on measurable objectives, not just ROI. From the start, you need the client or management to agree with the goals and how results are quantified.
Communications campaigns can have any number of objectives and success can vary on a project-by-project basis. Before you can quantify success, first ask this: "What do I expect from this work?"
Your goals can be traditional, such as improved sales for a service or product, or more personal, such as improving staff morale.
Choose measurement methods that make sense. Once you've chosen objectives that fit both your project and your expectations, you need to choose measurement methods that make sense and that can be integrated into existing processes and formats.
There truly is no right or wrong here. If your goal is earning media coverage, a traditional measure such as number of clippings and their placement may be appropriate. If you seek to improve employee morale, measurement may entail a "before and after" survey of staffers, or simply noticing an improvement in the office mood.
Crafting a sensible measurement program will also help you avoid situations where the costs of measurement put your project budget out of reach - regardless of whether you spend too many hours evaluating results or invest too much in new reporting software.
Include measurement in your plans and budgets. Measurement must be part of your organization's communications work from the start of each project. Unfortunately, it often isn't included in communications plans until the end, at which time there is a mad dash to prove what everyone already knows, that the work was worth it.
Fail fast. You've planned a communications effort, you've budgeted for measurement methods that match your goals. Now what? By reporting early and often, you can monitor the success of your project from the start. In a worst-case scenario, this also enables you to fail fast when your program isn't working. At that point, you can evaluate what has gone wrong and create a new plan to avoid wasting valuable resources and capital on campaigns with no value.
The bottom line is that your client deserves to know if your program is effective. Bill Gates, for example, has been widely quoted as saying that if he was down to his last dollar, he'd spend it on PR. He can make such a claim because he knows his communications work. Can you say the same about yours? You can, if you know how to realistically measure its effectiveness.
Terry Hemeyer is senior counsel at Pierpont Communications.