I’ve made it my career to use measurement to show the value of communications, and so I use statistics just about every day. But I confess that the only statistics I studied in college were in a mandatory Psych 101 class where I had to understand probability if I was going to understand the results of the research we were studying. I actually majored in history and Asian studies—mostly because I was a rebellious teenager and refused to study the subjects that my father loved best: American and European history.
Thus, in order to do measurement I had a lot of catching up to do, stats-wise. But, as you’ll see in the following lessons, it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Lesson #1: Study what you want, but a little stats is vital.
The lesson here isn’t to not study history or Asian studies or anything else that intrigues you. A well-rounded education is a good thing. Especially in communications, where the job can deal with so much of the big, wide world.
Nor am I suggesting that you need to major in statistics to do well in PR. Though it would certainly come in handy, and it might get you a job faster. Instead, follow the lessons below to gain some basic knowledge of stats. Then supplement that with some data analytics and Excel expertise, and you’ll be showing your value in no time.
Lesson #2: You don’t need to know how to perform every possible statistical calculation… but you do need to know enough to understand what researchers talk about.
Most of what I know about actually doing communications measurement I learned from reading Dr. Don Stacks’ book “Primer of Public Relations Research.” It’s not exactly light reading, so perhaps “studying” is more accurate. I turned to that classic text after reading and listening to dozens of IPRRC papers and abstracts and being clueless about what they were talking about. The lesson here is that you are probably going to have to educate yourself a bit.
Lesson #3: You don’t have to do all the statistics yourself… as long as you have an expert working next to you.
My studies helped me grasp the fundamentals of correlation, causation, and statistical significance. Then my big Aha! moment was when I realized I might be able to apply those principles to help my clients demonstrate what was working and not working in their programs. So I turned to my then Chief Operating Officer, who has dual degrees in Economics and Physics from the University of California. I asked him to please see if there was any statistical relationship between the media content we were analyzing and the survey research data they’d provided us and/or the web traffic that they were attempting to increase.
Lesson #4: It’s a lot faster and more efficient if you know how to do the simple things yourself.
It turns out that the survey data was inconclusive, but the web analytics clearly showed what types of media stories were most likely to increase web traffic. So I came up with another scenario to test for a different client. And then another, and another… Until my COO pointed out that I was paying him to run the company, not run correlations. So why didn’t I just use the @correl function in Excel?
I had to admit I didn’t even know there was one(!) So he spent five minutes showing me how, and then I was off to the races and he was off to do his real job. The correlations ability of Excel is so handy that we’ve created a video to show you how to use it yourself. That’s your homework.
Lesson #5: To show the impact and value of your effort, you need clear definitions.
When clients ask me how they can show the impact of their efforts, I immediately ask them two things:
- What is the desired impact and how do you quantify it?
- What are the efforts and how do you quantify them?
Generally, people assume that “efforts” means the act of pitching a story or holding an event. Remarkably few people I talk to put actual dollar values around those efforts. Occasionally the question will be framed in headcount terms as in: “Who has time to log every call or every email or outreach effort?” they ask.
I get that, which is why the most common output metric is the number of blog posts, articles, photos, or social posts about something you pitched to a reporter or author. It’s not perfect but that will suffice as a second data point.
But you’re not done yet…
Lesson #6: You need at least three data points to show value.
If you’re trying to show the impact of your efforts. then there is no bigger waste of executive time than to show her or him a pie chart of your results. A pie chart is great to show your share of voice vs. the competition. But the first thing a smart leader will ask is: “How does that compare to last quarter, or the quarter before we hired you?” So the third data point you need is the time frame or date. You will need to align the dates for your media output and the impact in order to find out if there is a connection. And yes, in order to show impact of something you’ve done, you will need to show change over time. But you can’t stop there.
Lesson #7: Time is easy, but proving value requires following the $.
Showing change over time (typically, improvement since you took the job, or got a budget approved, or some other major milestone) is always impressive. However, if you really want to blow leaderships’ socks off, then you need to correlate your outputs to revenue. Whether that revenue is quantified via cost savings or potential leads depends on your organization. But it all starts with understanding the costs involved in producing your results.
For years advertising used CPM (as in Cost Per Thousand, or what it cost to reach a thousand pairs of eyeballs) as the universal metric. When the internet arrived it became CPC (Cost Per Clickthrough). But since PR was considered “free,” there was no need to put dollar signs in front of anything that cost nothing.
But now we know better, and even if all you are “spending” is staff time, or agency time, there is still a cost to that resource. So, reporting that you “placed” ten stories last month is no longer an adequate metric because it only reports activity. It’s far more impressive to report that you “placed” 10 stories that resulted in 100 clicks at a cost of $10 per click, half the cost of _____ (fill in the blank: last year, any other department, etc.). It is how you show your value, and it’s what leadership wants to hear.
Lesson #8: Ask “So what?” 3 times… and don’t forget the “Now what?”
Yes, you do need to dig into the data to analyze your results. At the very least, try using Pivot Tables in Excel to see what lies behind the changes. If you feel you need to learn how to do analysis more quickly or efficiently, then take a data analytics course.
My standard advice when analyzing results is to ask “So What?” three times:
- So what that the positives went up? What are the implications? Did you do something differently? Were the market conditions changing? What was the context?
- Then ask “So What?” again: So what happened as a result of that positive coverage? Did it result in more conversions? More traffic to the website? More leads?
- Then one more “So What?” So what will you do differently? This is also known as the “Now What?”
The “Now What?” is critical. Senior leadership doesn’t just want reports that tell them what happened, they want to know your recommendations for doing things better next time. What changes does the data suggest you make? What lessons can you imply from the data that you can use to make your communications more effective? To do your job better? To save your organization time or money? ∞