It’s always vital to know the difference between activity and results. Perhaps nowhere is this distinction more important than in communications. Let me tell you a story...
Back in the 80s, I was a young director of marketing working 70 hours a week for a tech startup. I had a hard-nosed boss who refused to listen to my exhausted pleas for help. He would simply say in his clipped British accent, “Never confuse activity with results.” What he was telling me was that all my hard work wasn’t delivering the outcomes we’d agreed upon.
Since then I have had similar conversations with any number of young professionals who measure success by their hours worked, press releases sent, or number of projects juggled. The reality is, that unless all that work helps fulfill the organization’s priorities, “It just doesn’t matter!” (as Bill Murray might say).
Releasd and its customers confuse activity with results
Sadly, our profession has yet to have learned this lesson. Witness a recent study by Releasd, which reports that activities are PR’s favorite KPI. What?
I admit, I take this report and its data with a supertanker worth of salt. Releasd is, after all, in the business of selling software that helps PR people report on their activities. So they are unlikely to release a report that says their service is not needed. In addition, the data that went into the report is based on their customers’ KPIs. Which of course are going to be activities, since that’s why they became Released customers in the first place. So the fox is reporting that the hen house is full of chickens.
But, sadly, I know from my own experience that the activities-as-KPIs trend is all too true. I can’t tell you how many clients who, when asked for their outcomes, say “Number of press releases sent out,” or “Number of emails sent.”
And so the Releasd report confirms my worst fears. According to it, “favorite” KPIs include activity-based numbers such as “award entries completed, blog posts in progress, and press releases sent.”
Now, I’m not suggesting by any means that you shouldn’t keep track of stuff like this. But your real KPIs should be “Goal conversions completed per press release sent,” or “Marketing leads generated per blog post distributed.” (Don’t ask me what corporate priority completing award entries achieves, but I’m sure someone must have a reason.)
Outputs, outtakes, and outcomes
I can only imagine how AMEC must feel. To try to add some gravitas to their report, Releasd cites AMEC’s Barcelona Principles-based measurement framework as a guide. Back a decade ago, when we were debating the Barcelona Principles, we defined outtakes as what stakeholders “take away,” i.e., changes in perception or belief. Yet, confusingly, in this report outtakes are retweets, comments, views, and shares. Almost everyone in Releasd’s sample (94%) uses them.
When it comes to outcome and impact measures, Releasd’s clients seem to have a slightly better grasp of the concept, since they at least include leads, webinar registrations, dollars raised, and new partners. Unfortunately, just 26% of Releasd customers include outcome or impact metrics.
Which means that most of them are, yes, confusing activity with results. So, for confirming and documenting our worst fears about the profession, we name Releasd and its customers this month’s Measurement Menaces. Congrats! ∞
P.S. There is some actual good news in the Releasd report: in 2021 just 6% of customers used AVEs. Always look on the bright side. 🙂