Platform: The defining force of evaluation - In order to offer precise evaluation you need to decide exactly what it is that you are evaluating, says Kevin Thomson

What do we really mean when we say we are in the communication business?

What do we really mean when we say we are in the communication


This was the question that came to mind when I heard speakers at PR

Week’s recent Communicating Business Strategy conference saying it is

impossible to evaluate the worth of organisational communication to a


I disagree.

The impact of communication can be assessed, as long as we agree what we

mean by communication. What few in our profession seem to articulate,

let alone debate, is the fundamental difference between communications

(plural) - the tools or channels by which we communicate - and

communication (singular), the exchange of information, ideas or


Too often, measurement in our industry focuses on the channels of


But measurement of true value should centre on communicating business

strategy and goals and then determining whether people understand and do

anything differently as a result.

Those who misunderstand the difference between a process of spending

money on activities (input), and assessing a real return on an

investment (output), will understandably struggle to evaluate their

value to the business. Yes, one does go with the other but as PR Week

itself strives to show in its Proof campaign, if you employ the right

metrics to evaluate activities then you can add value.

Recent research by Ernst and Young among 275 analysts and portfolio

managers concludes that institutional investors are basing more and more

of their decisions on a firm’s non-financial measures of performance

such as corporate strategy, innovation, and the ability to attract and

retain people. All of these measures are ones that we can directly

affect. We are the translators of business goals into staff

understanding and commitment.

Without wishing to overly educate, we can learn from principles of

internal marketing. This is not the traditional, top-down, employee

communication or even communications. it is a marketing-driven

discipline that views staff as internal customers, in the way that

external marketing views its many audiences.

External marketing also uses a range of hard measures to assess business

contribution, such as customer satisfaction and retention. Now it is

recognised accounting practice to measure brand value as an asset.

Similar criteria apply to internal customers and therefore the value of

internal communication, such as staff retention and satisfaction.

For example, a study last autumn by the Marketing and Communications

Agency, in conjunction with MORI found a direct link between

communication and levels of organisational commitment among staff in

large UK organisations.

This is also confirmed by research from the Institute of Work Psychology

at the University of Sheffield, among small- to medium-sized

manufacturing companies, which found that ’13 per cent of the variation

between companies in their profitability can be explained by levels of

organisational commitment of their employees’.

This link isn’t just seen in academic research. Sears, the major US

retailer, has focused a business improvement programme on staff

attitudes that are directly affected by communication. They’ve found

that a five point improvement in employee attitudes will drive a 1.3

point improvement in customer satisfaction, which in turn will drive a

0.5 per cent improvement in revenue growth.

Communication works, internal marketing delivers. But can you prove


Kevin Thomson, is chairman of the Marketing and Communication Agency

(MCA) and President of the UK Chapter of IABC.

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