This piece originally appeared as a free article in the Late September edition of The Measurement Advisor.

By Carrie Schum —

In the last year, I’ve had more clients wanting measurement than ever before. In many ways, this is a good thing. Robust, thoughtful, replicable measurement ensures that we’ve got the information we need to make smart program decisions.

But now we have another problem.

Data is being seen as an end in itself, rather than as a tool to help understand the impact of a communications program. When you start planning a PR program by asking “what do I get for this” – in ways that don’t reflect the nuance, time frame, and unique role of PR — you end up making the wrong choices. Or, worst of all, no choices.

So we get questions like “How much product is this satellite media tour going to sell?”

Or “What’s the ROI on this event?

And because we didn’t have that answer, the client ended up not doing anything.

The problem is, you don’t structure great PR programs by asking questions like these.

You get the data to structure great PR programs by understanding the job you want PR to do, and building your data gathering around that.

Fortunately, I have a very simple tool to help you do just that: plain language. If you start there, you will be able to stay there. And you will have extremely useful data that maps right back to what you want your PR to do.

Here are five ways that you could use plain language to frame your objectives and your measurement approach.

You want more of something

Write your objective about increasing whatever the elements are that are most important to you – whether that’s knowledge, reach, favorability, beliefs, or something else. Then the question you – as the PR expert – need to answer is “How will your company know that it’s had the “more” that it wants? Do you have the right measures in place to know that?

For example, if you need to increase overall favorability, but your measurement is limited to impressions, you don’t have the right data to answer your question. You need message analysis of your coverage for changes in tonality and content. You could do a tracking study against key brand attributes and purchase intent. You could look at share of voice against key competitors.

You want less of of something

Of course there’s the opposite of the first point. You want fewer negative articles. You want to lower unfavorable beliefs. You want people to stop doing something.

This can be trickier to measure. How do you measure the impressions that didn’t occur because you stopped a number of negative articles from being written? Again – don’t start in the wrong place (worrying about impressions). You need a richer measurement program where you have audience tracking data, so you can set benchmarks and track over time. And that’s one reason why ONGOING tracking is so important. If you have a crisis and you start tracking during it, you don’t have any way of knowing what your “normal” baseline was.

You want to change perceptions

You need to re-frame or re-position your product or cause.

Some things to think about as objectives here would be about message uptake – is the content and context of your coverage changing? The best example I can think of here is the landmark Florida “truth” anti-tobacco campaign, where the campaign goal was to change tobacco use from a health issue to a hip counter-tobacco brand. Our tracking looked at brand awareness and perception, rather than agreement with items about the health effects of smoking.

You want to differentiate yourself

Your objective could be driven by differentiation – the need to distinguish yourselves from what others are doing. Then you need to measure key attributes that are important in your category and see where you stack up compared to those competitors. You need to identify the ones that you want to own, and focus on doing things that will affect them. You see this lot in the big CPG brands –Coke vs. Pepsi is a classic here.

You need to persuade people

This is of course the challenge in public affairs, when you need to get people to come out and vote. But it’s important for any case where there’s a huge emotional charge. This is the issue in vaccines today; people are strongly, emotionally persuaded one way or the other. It’s also important when there’s a barrier to overcome, in things like health screenings. Objectives here need to track things like perceived openness and self-efficacy – who is persuadable, and how equipped do they feel to take the action you’re seeking.

Three final points on this:

  1. You need less than a handful of objectives. More than that, and you’re spending all your time measuring. Try for three to five, max.
  2. Don’t measure what you don’t report. It’s really easy to gather all kinds of data and throw it into a deck. But if it’s not driving against your three to five objectives, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to gather and look at it.
  3. Measure your program. This sounds really basic, but it sometimes gets lost. If you are doing lots of sampling events, gather data from the people at the events. If you’re building a network of key opinion leaders, make sure you’ve got a way to see if their opinion of your product or issue is changing. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to measurement; your measurement needs to match your program.

Measurement is fabulous, cool, and insightful. But it doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. Simple smart objectives are the way to get simple smart data that helps you know what’s working, and what’s not. ∞

This post is reprinted with permission from the Porter Novelli blog. Thanks to dorkly for the image.


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