We are our own worst critics when trying to measure our programmes and campaigns.

PR and communications practitioners frequently disagree about how to measure programmes and campaigns effectively. When kept within our circle of peers, it is a topic for spirited discussion over food and drinks.

However, when it comes to sharing our results and outcomes, we find ourselves struggling to justify our value to the business. This sets off a vicious loop, as budgets are reduced, or leadership feels that they have to set more goals for PR to accomplish, to prove our worth. 

“If you don’t set goals for yourself, you are doomed to achieve the goals of someone else.” – Brian Tracy

The quote applies to more than personal development when applied to our scenario. 

Why do measurements and metrics matter?

All programmes – regardless of discipline – is better when it is measured.

The correct set of measurements can help to improve programmes and campaigns, by providing clarity for weak areas, and helping with decision making for growth or strong areas.

Success is highly dependent on the quality of planning, preparation, implementation and stated outcomes.

Changes that happen mid-programme, that are reactive, or not aligned with business goals, can result in a disastrous outcome for the organisation.

strtgcommsgrp - correct set of measurements

Where do I stay with measurements? Well, be SMART about it.

As with many tools in the PR industry, we have taken SMART and added it to our repertoire

SMART was first raised by George T. Doran in 1981. In an issue of Management Review, George suggested that goals should be SMART, that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

How do you use SMART? Due to the specificity that the framework requires, when setting SMART goals, all objectives are clearly defined and created to be attainable within a fixed timeline and aligned with a specific set of criteria.

Using SMART starts with understanding the components of the framework – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound – as parts of a formula and putting your campaign variables into the components and adjusting as necessary to plan for the outcome/s you want.

Here are 3 tips to use SMART apart when planning campaigns:

Let’s take a few steps back to when you are planning and building the campaign.

Ensuring goals, objectives and outcomes align: Setting clear and realistic goals and outcomes is a critical step for any strategic communications programme or campaign.

Regardless of whether the plan is built ground-up or reverse engineered, the key step is to set the outcomes and how to measure these outcomes in relation to business goals.

Map your strategy and execution to the Barcelona Principles 3.0: These principles were first created in 2010, and updated in 2015 and 2020. They reflect that “…setting goals is an absolute prerequisite to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation.” and “…measurement and evaluation should identify outputs, outcomes, and potential impact”.

The important and consistent takeaway across all 3 updates is to set goals, identify outcomes and to stop relying solely on output-based measurements.

AMEC has an interactive tool that operationalises the Barcelona Principles 3.0; use it: The tool helps practitioners with a “…clear measurement journey from planning and setting SMART objectives, defining success, setting targets through to implementation and the measurement and evaluation itself.”

Now let’s look at execution.

strtgcommsgrp - execution of measurements

Putting together measurements and metrics

When it comes to measurements, stakeholders tend to prefer quantitative metrics. It is easier to report, and a formula used to determine the increase (or decrease) over time (for example, year-on-year, month-on-month and similar).

The ‘number’ layer should form the baseline of a report, since it is the most accessible means of accounting for the performance of a programme.

With accessibility, stakeholders can be reassured efficiently about progress.

Securing co-ownership from stakeholders and clients

Involve management and/or the business teams in figuring out or clearly stating the business goals, value to the customer, and areas that the brand dominates or differentiates in.

Run a SWOT-Gap analysis-Opportunity/Threat matrix combination of models to set up a common baseline of understanding between functions.

Align the SWOT to answer “So WHAT?”

As a team, come up with strategies to capitalise on strengths and opportunities while mitigating weaknesses and threats.

Providing relevant and specific data and information to make decisions

However, numbers alone (as referenced earlier in this section) should not be the only layer or means to prove efficacy.

This would discount the qualitative and intangibles that situations often throw up.

As shared earlier, we should also consider proxies for actions and behaviours as a measurement. It is useful to demonstrate that these behaviours helped achieve the goals and outcomes more than through numbers alone.

These intangibles must be measured as well but given their qualitative nature, the descriptor and the demonstration of value must be easily understood.

It bears spending time to map the measurement, proxy and descriptor to the specific goal or outcome it will support and explain how it does so.

When the metric is pulled up, this explanation should follow along so the measurement is always viewed with context.

Metrics/measurements for the report at this stage should specifically include:

Sidetrack: How do humans – and therefore your stakeholders and clients – define value?

According to Henry Hazlitt, a journalist and author, “…each of us is constantly seeking to bring about what he regards as a more satisfactory state of affairs (or a less unsatisfactory state of affairs). This is another way of saying that each of us constantly seeks to maximise his satisfactions.” (Download his PDF ebook at this link).

Since we can increase or decrease our satisfactions, it means that the value of our satisfactions can be measured or quantified. However, this state of adding to or taken from, is limited and applied subjectively.

For example, in economics, we measure the value of money by its purchasing power. But these two variables are not linked directly. Instead, we are measuring the ratio of exchange between the amount of money and what it can buy.

Subjectively, we cannot quantify how a person values an item. When he buys the item, it means he values it more than the money he paid; and vice versa if he doesn’t buy the item, he values the money more.

Moving away from money, and back to value, we find that we cannot objectively define the value of it.

Therefore, trying to set up goals and outcomes for campaigns, is not a quantitative discussion. How many pieces of coverage or the number of leads to secure, to make a stakeholder ‘happy’ or ‘agree that value has been accomplished’?

Instead, the discussion, securing of co-ownership and agreeing on the outcomes and metrics are important steps. This ensures that you do not run a successful campaign but still fail to meet the expectations of value as determined subjectively by your stakeholder/client.

Measuring what matters.

Set measurements and outcomes early in the plan, framework or approach and reverse engineer the pathway: A common mistake is to start with the implementation concept and idea and end up having to stretch or squeeze the outcomes into the execution. Concepts and ideas are plentiful and what might not work for a specific campaign can be repurposed later.

Setting the outcomes and how to measure these outcomes in relation to business goals makes it clear WHY the programme or campaign is being done. These measurements should be both qualitative and quantitative and map to the objectives.

A litmus test of the objective and measurements is whether other teams can understand it easily. Feedback can be helpful in optimising the plan and also achieving ownership.

Show creativity in coming up with measurements and outcomes: Approach the outcomes with a scientific mindset. Think of finding outcomes to measure and relating back to objectives and goals as a challenge akin to discovering a competitive advantage over a competitor or becoming a leader in your organisation’s niche.

What does successful execution look like? What variables does it impact? Can I measure the impact through a proxy? What does the proxy connect to, from a business, numbers and customers perspective?

Don’t bother measuring activity: By activity, we mean outputs such as emails sent, open rate, etc. Record it and insert the data into reports but do not make decisions based on output/activity numbers only.

Top 3 metrics/proxies to measure strategic communications and PR campaigns (in no particular order of priority)

Outputs and outtakes are leading indicators and cannot demonstrate any clear causality to the impact of a PR campaign. Instead measure outcomes – lagging indicators – such as contact forms completed, leads added to pipeline, request for product demonstrations, backlinks on high-authority websites, increase in web traffic (in absence of other outreach campaigns), etc.

Check whether the messages you included in the content were picked up by the customer/audience. Did earned media channels feature the key points, tonality and sentiment you were trying to achieve. When sharing messaging, limit or narrow to 3 messages and track those per campaign (vs. the universe of messaging your brand might have).

Measure outtakes and outcomes through the actions that your customer/audience takes after engaging with your campaign. Define what these signals/actions are, and map them to campaign goals and objectives.

strtgcommsgrp - why do we measure and report

Why do we measure and report?

No, it’s not about justifying our jobs, or even to support the sales and marketing functions.

We do so because as an employee, and part of the workforce of our organisation, it is our responsibility to create and provide value so the company can continue to grow. This growth will provide us – as practitioners – with more opportunities to hone our craft through the many scenarios, challenges and situations that we encounter.

Think of it like a video game. We have to train and level up to defeat the stage’s boss before we can move on to the next chapter/scene/environment of the game. Every action – win, loss, grind, co-play, team play, respawn – helps our game character get stronger, so we can eventually win the game.

Measuring and reporting – to the individual – is our way of keeping score, so we know whether we have grown and improved over time and by going through experiences. When we leave the organisation, we do so having contributed to its growth, and receiving our development in return.

For the organisation, we are creating guides, playbooks, FAQs, best practice – essentially contributing to the institution’s ‘muscle’ memory so our team members, colleagues and those that come after us, can be and do better.

I am a trainer, coach and solutions provider for communications and PR organisations and practitioners. With over 20+ years in the industry, I have created approaches, methods and content that can help you and your team launch, grow, level up and monetise effectively and efficiently.

Here are 3 ways I can help communications, marketing and PR practitioners:

Set up a meeting with us if you are looking for to deliver growth outcomes for your organisation, brand or team.

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