How to Write a Communications Measurement Report that Will Tame the Data Puking Dragon

The key to great communications measurement reports and happy bosses is to use your data to tell a story. But teasing that story out of a pile of data is not as straightforward as you might think. Whether you are summing up your accomplishments for the year or summarizing a bad day in the media, your report writing will be faster and of better quality if you approach your work in a strict sequence with specific intermediate goals along the way.

In the article below we present the process of preparing a communications measurement report in seven steps, from researching your audience and their needs, through wrangling insight from your data, to choosing charts and polishing your presentation.

Step 1: Figure out what kind of story they need to hear.

As with any form of communications you need to put yourself into the shoes and head of whomever you are presenting to. Do a little research on your audience so you know what concerns you should be sure to address.

Whether you’re presenting to your peers, your boss, or the Senior Leadership Team, you need to know two things before you even start to pull your data:

  1. What keeps them up at night? What are they worried about most right now?
  2. What will prevent them from earning their bonus? Or, if you don’t have a bonus system, what do they see as barriers to success?

Step 2: Make sure you understand the logistics of the presentation.

You want to give your report or presentation the best shot at success. If at all possible, you want to tailor your presentation to the audience and the environment in which it will be experienced. So find out:

  • Where is your report going to be seen? Are you presenting one-on-one at a desk? In-person in front of a crowd? Will it be read on a plane? Reviewed via conference call? There’s a lot more time for detail if someone is reading it on a plane, compared to if you’re presenting yourself and squeezed into a packed agenda.
  • How many people will be on the call or in the room? Who are they?
  • What kind of presentations are they used to? Are they numbers people, graph people, pictures people, or word people?
  • And one last tip: Check to make sure that the colors you are using are distinguishable by any one who might be colorblind in your audience. Been there, blew that presentation…

Step 3: With your audience in mind, look at the data and figure out what story it can tell.

At first you may find many, many stories, most likely all about how good your team has performed. Throw them out. Why? Well, you’re probably looking at the data with those rose-tinted glasses called confirmation bias. Plus, leadership probably doesn’t want to hear that anyway.

What an executive really does want to hear is:

  1. What isn’t working, and
  2. How you’re going to fix it.

So sort all your data from worst performing to best. If you have one, bring in the team that worked on the various campaigns on which you have data. Talk about what happened, why something didn’t work and why something else did.

If the initial numbers you are looking at haven’t changed a lot, start diving into your crosstabs:

  • Look at media by type, author, subject.
  • Look at what might have been going on with the competition concurrently.
  • If you’re looking at social data, look at the timing, the subject, as well as the individual that shared your content.
  • For social and digital, compare the quality of different pieces of content: look at the tone, the authenticity, the relevance, and the call to action. Again, look at what didn’t work first.

Then compare the best and the worst and figure out what your key message is about your data. If you are stuck, then keep in mind: What isn’t working? and How will it be fixed?

Step 4: Illustrate your story.

Now that you know what your message is, select a few charts to illustrate it.

The most effective type of chart is one of these:

Thanks for the graphic to Katie Ostreko, Director of Marketing and New Product Development at izzy+.

This sort of 2 by 2 value vs. cost chart compares the value you’ve delivered (typically measured by a quality index, an engagement index, or other bespoke measure of value) with the resources required to get that value. You just need to populate each quadrant with the activity. If you do this every quarter, it will be obvious where your biggest bang for the buck is.

The second best chart is one that shows progress or decline over time, like this:

In this one we illustrated the quality of coverage over time, with and without the PR effort. We told the story with simple bullet points to the right.

For another example, in the following chart we looked at high quality media exposure and the revenue that various promotions brought into a national nonprofit. We illustrated the major moments with visuals from the media coverage. We initially couldn’t figure out what made certain events so successful, but then we added in data from social sharing during the same time. It turned out that the social call to action (“Share and Donate”) had the largest impact on revenue. Great story told in one chart:

Step 5: Be parsimonious with your pictures.

Virtually any platform out there will generate dozens of different charts in all shapes and sizes. You don’t need dozens, so resist delving too deeply into the crosstabs. I recommend no more than ten charts maximum, and five is ideal. Choose wisely and only use ones that illustrate your story and enhance the message.

Depending on what your analysis finds, throw out any charts that don’t contribute to your story line. Eliminate any charts that have insufficient data to make your point. Never use a chart just because it was there in a previous presentation.

Step 5½: Use our handy Chart Decide-O-Matic guide to decide just which charts to generate.

The four scenarios below cover most of the presentations you are likely to create. While every situation is different, the options or questions listed will help you decide which charts or graphs you’ll want to generate:

Scenario 1: Monthly or quarterly report

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Did our efforts pay off?
  • What worked, what didn’t?
  • What should we do differently next month or quarter?

Charts you’ll definitely need if you’re producing a report on social or traditional media results:

  • Share of desirable and undesirable conversations vs. the competition over time
  • Message communication over time by message
  • % of items containing one or more key messages over time
  • % of conversations/coverage in high influence media
  • % of coverage/conversations focused on top priority topics

Optional charts:

  • % of items containing one or more quotes from internal spokespeople over time
  • % increase in social engagement over time
  • % increase in unique visits to targeted URL over time
  • % change in awareness/preference compared to last reporting period

Scenario 2: Reporting in the middle of a crisis

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • How bad is it really?
  • Do we need to respond at all?
  • Do we need to respond differently?
  • Is it really a crisis or just internal panic?
  • Which authors and media outlets should we be worried about?

Charts you’ll definitely need:

  • Increase/decrease in volume of coverage by hour/day
  • Increase in negative sentiment by hour
  • Sentiment by media outlet (e.g., Twitter vs. mainstream news)
  • Social sharing (desirable vs. undesirable over time)
  • Share of voice vs. the competition
  • Share of undesirable voice vs. the competition
  • What’s the gist of the conversation? (e.g., generate a word cloud)
  • Top authors by sentiment
  • Change in perceptions (optional)

Scenario 3: Reporting after a crisis or an event

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Should we devote resources to this in the future?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • What should we do differently next time?

Charts you’ll definitely need if you’re producing a report on social or traditional media results:

  • Pre/Post increase in website conversions
  • Change in desired positioning vs. the completion
  • Change in perceptions, consideration, or preference pre/post event (no longer optional.)

Scenario 4: Reporting after a major product launch

What you’re trying to say and/or questions the report will answer:

  • Did we get our messages and positioning across correctly?
  • Did we outperform the competition when they launched their product?
  • How well did our spokespeople get messages across?
  • Did we reach the audience we were aiming for?
  • Did the reporters we briefed report accurately?

Charts you’ll definitely need if you’re producing a report on social or traditional media results:

  • Share of voice vs. the competition
  • % of coverage containing one or more key messages
  • % of coverage containing desired positioning
  • % of spokespeople quoted
  • % stories that contain key messages
  • Breakout of coverage by media outlet, source, and author
  • Ratio of desirable to undesirable coverage
  • Increase in awareness or preference for the product
  • Increase in conversions on the product website

Step 6: Write your executive summary and craft your elevator speech.

Your executive summary should capture the 3-5 points you want your audience to remember, and what they need to do to improve. Your elevator speech is even briefer. It’s what you have up your sleeve just in case you find yourself in a situation in which you need a very, very short summary of what you’ve accomplished. Assume they have the attention span of gnat, so practice it in a very short building. 🙂

Step 7: Review and polish.

Now sit down and read the report aloud to someone. Also, give it to someone else to read aloud to you:

  • Does it sound smooth and reasonably eloquent? Is it readily understandable? If not, refine as necessary.
  • If you were presenting this in the board room, would everyone understand all of it? If not, refine as necessary.

If you are not comfortable doing presentations, or if you have any anxiety about doing this particular one, practice your delivery. You don’t have to memorize it, but repeat it over and over until it is very familiar territory. Prepare for questions by making some up and practice answering them. Do your best to anticipate the hard questions. Prepare to deal with any difficult or embarrassing points so you aren’t caught off guard.

Good luck!

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.