By Katie Paine, with help from Michael Ziviani and Forrest Anderson

A common complaint I hear from audiences is that there are no “standards” for communications measurement. I always have to explain that the problem isn’t that there aren’t any, the problem is there are too many.

In the fifty-plus years that people have been trying to measure PR, no fewer than thirty measurement models have been proposed as possible “standards” by academics, industry associations, and providers. Which is why, several years ago, an intrepid band of IPR Measurement Commission members decided to tackle the seemingly insurmountable challenge of bringing order to the multiplicity of measurement models.

Thus the Task Force on Standardization of Communication Planning/Objective Setting and Evaluation/Measurement Models was born. (We can’t remember all that either, so we’re just going to call them “The Task Force.”) The group, made up of both academic and professional measurement experts, is lead by Fraser Likely. See his article in last month’s Measurement Advisor for an overview of their scope and results so far.

At the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement, two members of The Task Force, Michael Ziviani and Forrest Anderson, offered a work-in-progress update on this effort and shared broader research by presenting on “What Communications Could Be But Isn’t!” Their insights helped shape discussions during the entire conference.

“International research offers great insight to inform how to adopt best practice in communications and its measurement” – Michael Ziviani

As important groundwork, The Task Force drew on the latest international research. Several themes that emerged are described below. These themes echoed early findings of interviews of CCOs, as conducted by The Task Force and presented at the IPRRC conference this year.

Forrest Anderson speaks at the Summit on the Future of Measurement

“Not surprisingly, what matters to management is measuring success via business metrics, not just communications metrics.” —Forrest Anderson

The work identified several themes common to the best of communications measurement and the most successful CCOs:

Theme 1: Focus on alignment with the business

The best communications executives are focused on aligning their activities with larger business and corporate goals. They use measurement and evaluation to review performance and environmental scanning to improve the connection between metrics and environmental context.

Theme 2: Roles are shifting

The alignment theme leads logically to the second theme, this time from Europe and Sophia Volk of the University of Leipzig: “The key challenge is a lack of distinction between strategic and operational roles in daily practice. Finding the right balance is the key challenge as the strategic role is more valued by top management.” The implication of this theme is that self-reflection is important on the part of comms executives, in order to understand how others perceive them, and to contrast that with how they want to be perceived in their different roles.

Theme 3: Communications leaders are internal consultants

The broader research from Sophia also suggests that communications leaders are seen as internal advisors. This can help them gain more acceptance and power in their organization. Which requires acquiring business knowledge and speaking the language of management. Which leads us to the next theme…

Theme 4: Business metrics matter

Not surprisingly, what matters to management is measuring success via business metrics, not just comms metrics. Anderson pointed out that while traditional communications metrics are useful to communications staff, business managers will always want to talk business metrics. Informing these with research and celebrating success are key elements from management theory.

Theme 5: Research

One of the keys to success for great communicators is the ability to put data into context and distill insights.

Corporations that place great importance on data and data analytics also seemed to drive their importance within communication. Collaborative organizational cultures and those that value planning seemed to enable strong integrated reporting and strategic use of measurement data.

We heard throughout the Summit that great communicators understand that their leadership cares about threats and opportunities. The CCO that regularly points them out is more likely to have the ear of the CEO and the board.

Demonstrating clear value is key to getting a seat at the management table. Findings indicate that management support is built by moving beyond discussions of the value of communication to how comms efforts support business decision-making and strategy.

It seems the bar is set high, in terms of skills required to be successful with data. We found a strong dedication to continuous improvement among executives with sophisticated measurement and evaluation programs. Many with advanced measurement programs had both internal and external experts on staff, valued for their advanced capabilities. Departments did not solely rely on these experts though, as there was a general consensus that all staff members are expected to have basic measurement and evaluation competencies, especially the ability to interpret data into strategy.

Check back here later in the Fall for more on this fascinating research. ∞

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