Many rural, NRM and agricultural organisations invest sometimes significant amounts on communication programs which we all agree can play a vital role in growing next and end user knowledge, awareness and understanding. Why then are these clearly important activities not always measured as rigorously as the research and adoption and extension programs, with communication outcomes clearly linked to and measured against higher level organisational objectives?
An excellent journal article arrived in my inbox this morning from the latest Public Relations Journal by Alexis Bajalia (volume 13, issue 2) – Where Are We Now? Public Relations Professionals Discuss Measurement and Evaluation. Alexis looks at the current state of measurement and evaluation in the PR (and by extension the communications) industry by reviewing excellence and role theories in literature and interviewing PR professionals across different organisations in the US about how they “view measurement and evaluation and the extent to which they use measurement and evaluation findings to influence organizational effectiveness”. This article has some great takeaways for any comms professional.
I like how Alexis notes that output-level metrics (e.g. impressions, circulation, no. of articles etc) are a necessary first step but the important part for continuing to advance the PR profession, is to link outputs and outtakes (e.g. reaction, tone, click throughs, engagement, followers) with outcomes (e.g. awareness, impact, attitudes, advocacy). Executive level PR professionals she spoke to expressed a high level of awareness of the need for making these connections, particularly noting the management function of PR and the importance of outcome-level metrics, building relationships, and satisfying stakeholder needs.
It’s also interesting how Alexis found through her interviews that PR professionals at junior and executive levels were more likely to engage with and advocate for measurement and evaluation if they had strong relationships with higher level management.
The article is worth a read in full, particularly if you are in comms/PR or interested in measurement and evaluation at all, but I wanted to pull out a few points worth pondering raised in the article.
- Professionals (executive and junior) who reported using Advertising Value Equivalent or AVE (a metric which equates coverage to equivalent advertising spend) said they do not think the metric is strong or even valid.
- Executives interviewed pointed out measurement and evaluation challenges as being a need for staff trained in data analytics; the need to develop stronger, more creative ways to measure (beyond outputs); and the need to integrate measurement and evaluation.
- The findings of the study recommend these steps for PR/Comms professionals who want to improve their measurement and evaluation:
- determining what success looks like up front by initially defining objectives and key performance indicators;
- increased planning for and implementation of evaluation research at the formative, process, and summative levels;
- integration of measurement among departments and platforms to gain clearer, deeper insight about audiences;
- determining correlations between outputs and outcomes, rather than relying on anecdotal measures or inferences;
- and a willingness to be critical of what has been done in the past, making room for stronger ways to measure and evaluate public relations.
While this article is based on a relatively small sample and is US based, Alexis points out that her findings line up with decades of literature and contribute new knowledge about the current state of PR (and comms) measurement. And I agree that this study has a lot to offer and makes good suggestions for continuous improvement, which is what we all should be doing!
The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) has developed an integrated logical framework which is a great comms planning tool and extremely helpful for developing meaningful and impact based reporting at the organisational level (e.g. KPIs and objectives).
If you are outcomes and objectives focused when planning your comms program, integrate data collection activities across your organisation, and deliver impact based reports, you are well on your way. If you’re not and want to be able to better plan for and prove the value of your comms program, we’re more than happy to have a chat.