When you have achieved 80% of expected outcomes: “Your campaign results are not good enough!”

When your campaign brought in 50% of all the leads for the month: “These leads aren’t warm enough. We cannot convince them to do a trial or buy our product.”

When your messaging resonated with the 5 media that cover your industry and secured 3 articles: “How come we didn’t get coverage in all 5 titles?”

These are examples of a negative output from a campaign.

The situation is further compounded by peers or stakeholders who presume the results and assume that the outcome was created by incompetence and bad preparation on the part of the communications or PR team.

Is it any surprise that some team members suffer from some form of workplace PTSD?

“What you put in, you get to take out.”

Stakeholders and colleagues tend to perceive a successful campaign to be all black and white. You either hit all the anticipated outcomes or the campaign was not good enough.

Naturally, IF the primary measurement is quantitative, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees, and evaluate whether there were qualitative metrics that demonstrated impact and effectiveness.

Here’s the simple heuristic for communications and PR: IF you prioritise setting objectives, research and commit resources while expecting realistic outcomes, your campaign would probably do well.

strtgcommsgrp - successful campaigns

The fallacy of numbers when it comes to measuring successful campaigns

However, if you are only looking for numbers, and whether they have increased/decreased or converted into a percentage, look better compared to previous months/quarters/years, it is not difficult to find ways to look like you failed with a measurement.

Fact: The real world does not deal exclusively in numbers.

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

When a plan meets reality, changes that happen mid-programme or are reactive, or not aligned with business goals, will result in a negative result for the campaign.

When defining success for a strategic communications campaign, we are often referring to how effective the programme has been in helping achieve our stated objective. Efficacy is determined by the value, impact or benefit produced that has influenced the action, behaviour or decision of the target audience or customer.

Examples of actions, behaviours and decisions, include decisions to buy, conversion opportunities, referrals and repeat purchases, the sharing of information outside of the target community, the agreement to use an organisation’s preferred definition/account/explanation, etc.

Strategic communications/PR should be built on a structure that connects business goals, communications objectives, and outcomes with an execution plan or series of campaigns and measurements.

When these steps are not done well, efficacy and success become difficult to measure. Regardless of whether the numbers look good or bad.

Sidebar: What is the actor-observer bias and why is it so frustrating when it comes from stakeholders?

The actor-observer bias is a cognitive bias that describes the tendency to attribute our own behavior to situational factors, while attributing others’ behavior to dispositional factors. In other words, when we do something wrong, we tend to blame external circumstances, while when others do something wrong, we tend to blame their personality or character.

This bias can be frustrating when it comes from stakeholders because it can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

If a stakeholder is not aware of this bias and attributes their own actions to situational factors while blaming others for their actions, it can lead to a lack of accountability and a failure to address the root causes of problems.

For example, if you are late for a meeting, you might attribute it to the traffic or some unexpected event that happened on the way. However, the stakeholder might attribute it to your lack of punctuality or irresponsibility.

This can hinder progress and lead to a breakdown in communication and trust.

It is crucial to recognize the actor-observer bias and its potential impact on our team’s productivity and communication. The tendency to attribute our own actions to external factors while blaming others’ actions on their character or personality can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and a lack of accountability.

Therefore, it is essential to promote self-awareness among stakeholders and encourage them to take responsibility for their actions while considering situational factors. By doing so, we can foster a culture of accountability and mutual respect that will drive our organisations towards success.

A successful campaign begins with the communications/PR team taking the lead.

Showing some of my own bias, I typically recommend the communications team lead the stakeholder-outcomes conversation.

A proactive communications function simply delivers more value that unites stakeholders through an integrated position on goals, and the programme or campaign that can deliver the outcomes desired.

This does not take any agency or decision-making away from respective functions.

Viewed through a lens that encourages integration and cooperation, the communications function tends to be the team that interacts and engages cross-function. We understand each function’s range, strengths and can secure compromises for the bigger good of the organistion.  

When taking the lead, the communications team gets to build the positioning, key messages and the narrative for the project to succeed. Having a neutral project lead can help with coherence between functions, as other teams might work together only when it is a critical project for the organisation or a launch or refresh of offerings.

Communications should step up to lead and therefore be responsible for the planned outcomes as well.

Best practice in building achievable and realistic campaigns.

Setting the stage for a performance: Communications/PR teams can discover and understand how other functions/teams are viewing the workyear, and how their team objectives are laddering up to business goals. Take the time to understand their data sources, and where it might make sense to identify proxy measurements that support their metrics.

Identifying the right partners to perform together with: With alignment on business goals, and cross-team/unit/function outcomes, it is time to secure co-ownership. Communications/PR teams can identify the key outcomes that will benefit either the biggest number of teams or will map to the most relevant business goal.

Communications/PR plans can be designed with campaigns showing the alignment and mapping. Commitment to metrics and proxies should be clear, transparent and demonstrate both efficiency and efficacy in the use of budgets/resources.

Check and confirm that you are performing for the right customers: Additional to securing internal alignment, it is critical to ensure that research, discovery and re-evaluation of the customer and their journeys is done. It might be a worthwhile investment to relook at the customer and confirm that the organisation’s understanding of them, their context of interaction, and journeys are still valid.

Learn to identify mission-critical challenges and solve them…before the campaign starts.

These are the two most-common challenges that communications/PR teams must resolve before starting the campaign. They have the power to derail or stop a campaign mid-way and cause frustration.

Lack of ownership by leadership and/or the organisation: Programmes can be highly impacted by leadership/management opting not to agree or own the outcomes.

Always, always, always secure leadership co-ownership of the programme during the conceptualisation and planning stages. The more time spent securing ownership can save resources (time, budget and people), when the campaign is further along the process.

Unrealistic expectations of the programme: Unrealistic expectations are different from high or poor expectations of the programme.

Communications/PR teams must have a clear understanding of resources required, as well as the channels and reach before getting into expectation-setting discussions.

strtgcommsgrp - challenges during campaigns

Try and avoid these challenges during the campaign.

Discovery and awareness are a ‘given’ just by making an announcement, or distributing information to audiences or by providing access to products and services.

There is no truth in the “If I build, they will come” position.

No matter how popular or critical an offering is, the assumption that external parties are just waiting to purchase the product or service is misguided. Instead, the conversation should be about how to explain the value of the offering to the target audiences.

Communications can create a ‘smoke screen’ by positioning the organisation/brand in a certain manner while the truth is, it is making a strategic/unanticipated move in a different direction.

This borders on inauthenticity. No one likes to discover that they are wrong about a brand they have invested time, or emotions in. At the minimum, it will be a case of lost customers, or it might escalate into an issues management scenario. Competitors will be alerted to the extra noise being created and figure out what the organisation was trying to hide anyway.

Communications can provide ‘air cover’ through awareness, while the real work is done at through the relationships we have with our customers and by other sales/front-office functions.

This type of thinking will lead to less trust with the communications/PR function over time, as the team’s actions are regarded as unimportant and does not contribute to success.

It is important to call this mindset out from the start, and to demonstrate commitment to the business goal. Campaigns must determine relevant measurements that demonstrate how the function is supportive and connect to achieving business goals.

Post-campaign – successful or not-as-successful, here are 3 perspectives to review the outcomes.

Regardless of outcomes, it is good practice to review and reflect on completed campaigns. This practice can help teams understand where the blind spots are, and also how to better use resources for future campaigns.

The best outcome of the review is to eventually gather enough data to convert the campaign process into a template and playbook, with factors and contributions that lead to repeatable success.

From a stakeholder management perspective:

From a communications/PR team manager perspective:

From a campaign/project manager perspective:

At the end of day, a campaign that does not do well is not the end of the road, especially when viewed from a year-long or programme-long point of view. However, stakeholder rightly have an expectation to see good outcomes delivered for the organisation. Communications/PR teams that are able to engage stakeholders and demonstrate consistent effort in improving the efficacy of campaigns will do well. Remember that each campaign is yet another data point to better understand the customer, your stakeholders and the environment you are operating in.

I provide communications and PR solutions for organisations and practitioners through counsel, consultancy and training. With over 20+ years in the industry, I have created frameworks, methods and content that enable you and your team to launch, grow, level up and earn revenue effectively and efficiently.

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

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