12 Questions Every Communications Professional Needs to Answer Before Beginning a Measurement Program

By Katie Paine, CEO, Paine Publishing

Measurement is complicated. Before you wade out into the misty morass that is public relations and social media measurement today, you’ve got to have some firm ground under your feet.

These are not tricky questions, but the answers to some of them are not as obvious as you might think. Sometimes the hardest part is getting consensus from everyone involved. So take some time to find the answers and write them down. Then set up a meeting with your senior leadership to make sure that everyone is on the same page. If they’re not, you’ll need to have enough discussion to reach consensus before you can begin.

Get your ducks in a row

So get your ducks in a row by answering the 12 questions below and you’ll be off to a good start to a successful and actionable measurement program:

  1. What are your organization’s objectives?

Start with a thorough understanding of your organization’s business objectives and strategy. If they are not written down somewhere, then ask your boss; you might have a very interesting conversation.

For some organizations this can be a difficult question. If so, then another way to approach this is by shutting your eyes and using your imagination. Imagine that it’s the end of the year, and you and your boss are celebrating enormous success: Corks are popping, champagne is flowing, and bonus checks are being passed out to everyone. O.K., then, what is it that you are celebrating? That’s your objective. Alternatively, define your mission by framing it from the opposite perspective: Suppose your department was wiped out tomorrow, how would the organization suffer?

  1. What other measurement programs are currently underway?

What data do you have access to? What metrics are already being collected?  Your organization may already be gathering data that you need, or you might be able to tailor new measures to complement existing ones. For instance, sales or lead tracking data could be compared to marketing activities and measures.

  1. From the perspective of senior leadership, how does your function or department contribute to the organization’s objectives?

Regardless of what type of organization you work for—B2B, B2C, nonprofit, or government agency—you need to know what role you play in the organization’s path to success. It may seem like an obvious question, but you need to hear how senior leadership answers it. Because you’ve got to be able to demonstrate your success in terms of how they understand your role.

  1. Who are your program’s key stakeholders?

This is another question that may be pretty obvious for some organizations, but it never hurts to get it in writing. The important thing is to define the audience as specifically as you can. No matter what your business or organization, the answer to this question is not, “Anyone with a pulse.” There is always, within any market, a set of customers who are the most profitable, the most valuable. These are the ones you want to target. Who are they?

  1. What keeps your stakeholders up at night?

Once you’ve defined your audience, you must determine what issues matter most to them: What inspires them? What scares them? What are they most passionate about? Where do they go for information? The closer you identify an audience’s passions, the closer you are to understanding why they are loyal to your organization or brand.

  1. What motivates people to buy your products, or otherwise change their behavior?

The answer to this question will drive your strategy and define what you measure. It also provides keys to what specific metrics you need to track in order to measure your success. For example, if you sell a commodity product and what motivates purchase is price, then you need to measure the extent to which this concept is being communicated to your marketplace. However, if you are selling a service and what motivates purchase is the long-term relationship with the brand or the salesperson, then you need to be measuring relationships or brand engagement.

  1. What are your key messages?

Write them down. If there are more than five, prioritize them and get it down to five or less. In reality, no one will remember more than three anyway. If you haven’t crafted them yet or don’t know what they are, then do research to figure out what messages will resonate most forcefully with your target audience(s). Key messages should reflect what makes people buy your product or services, or what distinguishes you from your competition.

  1. Who or what is a relevant benchmark?

Measurement is a comparative tool, so you need to define how or what you’ll be comparing your results to. If you’re measuring your share of voice, you’ll need an agreed upon, consistent list of competitors. If you’re comparing your results to those from a different time frame, make sure that time frame is consistent and meaningful. For instance, before the new CEO, PR agency, or CMO arrived vs. after. Think of your research as a pre/post test or an A/B test in which you are testing one variable (before the new agency/CEO/program) vs. the other (after the new agency/CEO/program).

  1. Who influences your audience(s)?

What is critical to identify is: Who influences your target audience and how do those influencers, impact your organization? A communicator’s job is frequently to influence the influencers, so you need to know who they are. Enumerate all the traditional media, websites, online publications, politicians, non-governmental organizations, peers, educators, discussion groups, industry gurus, and so forth that your customers take into account when they decide to do business with your organization.

  1. How do you distribute your product or service?

The answer to this question is crucial to understanding the channels through which you will communicate. Are you talking directly to your customers, or is the most important target audience a broker or third party? How do they get information and what influences them? The answers to these questions will inform your strategy as well as your metrics.

  1. How does leadership expect to see your results reported?

Turns out that format and style of reporting has a huge influence on how people view your success. This is one case where you do not want to get creative. If the VP wants everything in an email, deliver it in an email (and attach a PowerPoint in case he/she has questions). If PowerPoint is the lingua franca of your organization, use it. If you’re reporting to a data geek, he/she may want it in an Excel spreadsheet.

The point is, think of the person to whom you are reporting and how he/she usually see results. You do not want them frustrated as they try to figure out what you have to say. If your report is going to the CEO, you will have 20 seconds or less to get your message across, thus your report must make an impact like that of a billboard. If your report is going to marketing, it should be short, but detailed enough to include brand data as well as corporate data. If it is for market research, you’ll need to provide cross tabs, verbatims, and other supporting data. If it’s for the VP of communications, you’ll want to make sure your results provide a big picture/organizational overview as well as the details as to why certain results are what they are.

And one more thing about reports: Make sure you can act on all the information you report and can make changes and improve performance as a result. Don’t waste anyone’s time with irrelevant data.

  1. What other departments or areas will be affected?

Who will be involved in implementing changes as a result of your measurement program? This is one of the most important questions, because if you don’t have buy-in from all departments to change their behavior or strategies, then your hard-won recommendations are likely to meet serious resistance, and your measurement program may be a waste of effort. Whoever might have to change as a result of your measurement needs to be involved in the process of designing the measurement program. Without their buy-in, change will not happen. ∞

The Measurement Advisor