Sheil: Making measurement work for you

Sometimes, especially in healthcare, you need to be patient and persistent with your measurement initiatives.

Earlier this month, I was in Amsterdam for AMEC’s International Summit on Measurement. The focus of the meeting was "upping the game" when it comes to PR measurement. In a room full of analysts, as well as in-house and agency pros, the conversations were dedicated to gaining the best intelligence and insight from research, analysis, and measurement of media coverage to drive the best communications strategy.

It occurred to some of us, including the conference leaders, that some focus was necessary to determine the difference between measuring media coverage of nonprofits versus for-profit entities. Is measuring coverage about healthcare different from that of car sales, for example?

The challenge we face in healthcare is that we never know when someone will need us. We can’t predict when someone will have a stroke, need heart surgery, or require complex medical treatment. So what’s the best way to adequately measure the value of a story that may not drive immediate results?

At Cleveland Clinic, we’ve been on our "measurement journey" for two years. We have worked hard to develop our "narrative," better understand our target markets and the media outlets that reach them, recognize the reasons people will travel for care and, in turn, what messages are most important. In addition, we’re setting goals, measuring our outcomes, and focusing on the quality of our stories rather than just quantity.

We are also partnering with our marketing counterparts to better correlate data and information that will help differentiate marketing impact and PR impact on the bottom line by building a data warehouse of information, such as patient volume in specific clinical areas, call volume at certain time periods, and activity that takes place throughout the year. Armed with all that, we will be able to see more comprehensively what happened, when, and why.

A great example was a story I shared with my colleagues in Amsterdam. There was a woman who lost her voice 30 years ago. She couldn't speak with her husband, scold her kids, or have a conversation with a friend. After she saw a news story on another patient we treated, she came to the Cleveland Clinic. After surgery and some therapy on her throat, our doctors gave this woman her voice back.

Think about that. A news story we worked very hard to push out resulted in this woman coming to us and getting her life back in a very real way. That’s the ultimate metric that proves the value of our PR efforts. Sometimes, especially in healthcare, you need to be patient and persistent with your measurement initiatives. Eventually, they will prove themselves in the most powerful ways.

My time in Amsterdam truly helped me realize why the experts who attend the AMEC conference each year frown upon PR people and their leaders who still use AVEs (ad value equivalency) to measure PR and focus on quantity of coverage alone. There are numerous analysts and others who are committed to upping the game of PR measurement. PR pros need to by equally dogged in their efforts to do so.
PR has huge impact on driving reputation and ROI to your organization, as we all know, but measurement is critical to unequivocally demonstrating its value. But taken deeper, you need to fully understand the nuances and best practices that serve your specific sector, whether you work for a nonprofit, for-profit organization, government entity, or otherwise.

Review the Barcelona Principles on the Measurement of PR and work with your analytics team to ensure you are developing the right approach for you. Measuring basic coverage is not enough anymore. You need a specific program that demonstrates the real value of PR to your specific organization in your specific sector. It takes a commitment to learn measurement, so educate yourself and your team and develop specific plans to implement a measurement program that meets your organizational needs.

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

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