Measurement & Evaluation of Communication: Q&A With Johna Burke, GMD, AMEC
Even after 30+ years in the PR industry, measurement is still a tough subject for many PR people. The questions asked years ago when I was first starting out are still surfacing today.
There is no shortage of resources, from research programs to the case studies and accepted industry principles that are available. Even so, the questions are presented on social media, in PR departments and with professionals worldwide.
In the spirit and format of my Answer books, I thought it would be helpful to publish a blog post that pinpoints the essentials of measurement beginning with PR planning.
Of course, who better to team up with, for this article, than Johna Burke, the Global Managing Director of the Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC). I’ve been referring to AMEC for years, and even using their Interactive Framework in my classrooms at NYU and UMASS at Amherst.
Johna has shared her answers to several measurement planning questions, which get to the heart of where you can start, when you want to set up measurement for your communication program.
Here’s what I asked Johna, and you can see her answers below. We hope this Q&A helps you to approach measurement and planning with an easier roadmap to follow.
Q1. What is PR planning?
For the eager communicator, planning is the most important and often most dreaded element of any campaign. Planning is the ONLY path to demonstrating the value of PR and communication. Period full stop! When communicators report on activities rather than goals and objectives that correlate to overarching organizational goals, they unwittingly signal to their C-suite they are more invested in justifying activities rather than proving the impact of communication.
Even though there are many extraordinarily talented planners (I am not one of these people), in our industry, planning is not a skill everyone possesses. This being the case planning IS something everyone can and should be adept in. An effective plan should be simple. If your plan is a verbose jargon-filled-to-the brim-word-soup, then you are staging a project which is doomed to failure. Your plan should be concise and to the point, comprehensive and yet sublimely feasible. One should remember to identify the problem and include critical measurable milestones to identify success and failure along the path. These may include stating objective(s), goal(s), strategies, target audiences, expected outputs, possible out-takes, eventual outcomes, and impacts to develop insights.
Success is not something that is only presented in the form of a colorful chart or a graph that correlates growth in ascending bars. When communication professionals invest time and resource into planning, they affirm their commitment to success. Success might mean following unexpected data to determine early enough into a program or campaign that something is amiss and requires change. Utilizing foresight and circumspection to invest in planning is the best affirmation to your executives that they can trust and rely upon your execution and evaluation of any given communication program.
I often hear from professionals that, “my C-suite knows communication is important, but they don’t want ongoing measurement and evaluation.” My first suggestion is always to review and reevaluate your plan. If you do not have a plan, then the problem is with you and not your C-suite. If you have a weak plan that is inwardly focused on your team’s activities alone, the problem is with you. Now, suppose you have a well-developed plan? It includes measurement and evaluation at every stage so you can assess output and out-take performance. This insight allows you to amplify success and mitigates over-investment in unproductive programs. Yet, your C-suite still doesn’t support your holistic program. In that case, it might be time to reconsider your options and get a new job.
Often, I hear, “My Chief Financial Officer (CFO) wants a dollar value of communication.” My retort to this is simple and time worn. Minimizing a bad investment has fiscal consequence. Therefore, an effectively planned, executed, measured and well-evaluated communication effort only lacks the correlation to how your efforts are impacting costs or income of your organization. Success rests on a bedrock of preparation. Work to better understand the precise objective in the proffered requests and weave those values into your plan. Answer the who, how, why and what.
Rather like scientific method one tests the supposition to prove the theory. Planning can therefore be defined as hypothesis validation. Successful planning almost always influences change, and, unfortunately, reforms to common practice are not always readily accepted. To achieve acceptance, try not to complicate objectives. Planning without first considering the consequences of your communication and PR efforts can be detrimental to one’s desired objective. In other words, do not throw obstacles in the path of your plan’s approval.
Follow these logical steps and you will affirm why planning and effective communication is critical to your company or any organization. Side effect: your strategic planning will transform you into a trusted strategic counselor for your C-suite.
Q2. Can you define a measurable objective and why are measurable objectives important in your communication program(s)?
Measurable objectives are the foundation of communication success. If these measurable objectives are not aligned with the overarching organization goals the communication team is just doing stuff, working without purpose. Bereft of measurable goals, individuals and teams tend to be ineffective and marginalized. Lack of accountability, direction and purpose erodes the inherent morale of the communication team and compromises any confidence the C-suite may have on its impact towards the desired goal.
The most common approach is to start with a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound) objective. SMART is an age-old acronym that has stood the test of time. If SMART is good, then SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Time-bound, Ethical and Revolutionizing) is significantly better. In 2017, I added the ‘e’ and ‘r’ at a measurement and evaluation conference. Although it was well-received, the year 2020 instilled increased focus and importance on ethical behavior; performance and attribution proved more critical to the professional, the organization, and society than we had ever seen before; a communication watershed; a game changer.
The term Ethical includes – among other things – an adherence to chosen language; how teams capture and use data, the sourcing of clean data, who they will communicate with and how they will hold a team or organization to the highest standard of value. Revolutionizing and evolving stated objectives is critical in order to fulfill the stated purpose of the individual, group or organization. When we prompt strategy with inspiration, communication efforts become more meaningful to the bottom line and consequently more compelling to the C-suite.
When the communication team realizes the potential of measured success, the team becomes empowered and is more likely to push boundaries, improve activities, achieve outputs, and ultimately realize the impact of their message. The proliferation of communication data has accelerated communication objectives to those who dare to succeed, fail and try again. This is necessary to learn from any communication program.
The biggest mistake of any communication professionals is the failure to recognize a stated objective for a measurable objective. Clearly stated and measurable is the ideal. However, measurable is the minimum standard required if one is to calibrate and quantify communication effectiveness.
Our communication efforts will increase awareness of our brand and result in a more active community.
SMART: Using our Paid, Owned, Earned and Social channels we will increase our brand share of voice by ten perfect (from X to Y) during the second quarter.
Add Ethical: We will source our content from clean data sources. (example: We will grow our community through a twenty percent increase in prospect opt-ins through our website. We will not use a ‘list purchase’ which is generally not GDPR compliant)
Revolutionizing: The use of communication and data to revolutionize the impact of communication. (Example: Current data indicates a prospect makes seven visits to our website before opting into our community. Using integrated messages across paid, earned, social and owned channels, we will target calls to action by prospect profiles to accelerate the conversion of prospects in two visits to the website. This will reduce the conversion cycle by 45 days and put 25 percent more leads in our sales team pipeline each quarter. If salesperson close rates remain static, this will result in 15% additional Q2 revenue.)
With clearly stated aligned measurable goals communication can mature from a cost center to a profit center by offsetting costs through effective communication.
Q3. What does the communicator, with little resources, do to implement better communications planning?
Communicators may have varying degrees of financial resources, but every communicator possesses critical thinking, the most valuable resource of all.
Communication professionals should make sure their teams are committed to the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) Barcelona Principles 3.0. These principles, originally adopted in 2010, updated in 2015, and most recently in 2020, are an excellent foundation for teams to rally around in their pursuit of excellence.
There are seven principles:
- Setting measurable goals is an absolute prerequisite to communication planning, measurement, and evaluation
- Measurement and evaluation should identify outputs, outcomes, and potential impact
- Outcomes and impact should be identified for stakeholders, society, and the organization
- Communication measurement and evaluation should include both qualitative and quantitative analysis
- AVEs are not the value of communication
- Holistic communication measurement and evaluation includes all relevant online and offline channels
- Communication measurement and evaluation are rooted in integrity and transparency to drive learning and insights
The most recent update of 2020 includes the vital ‘what to and not to do’ guidance. This expands the resources of any size team dedicated to best practice. Thus, enabling them to empower themselves in both thought and commitment.
Principle 1: Setting goals is an absolute prerequisite to communications planning, measurement, and evaluation. There is a reason these all begin and end together. The founding principle of SMART-Goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound) as a foundation for communications planning has been elevated to an essential prerequisite. It pushes measurement and evaluation as a core component of the planning process; articulating target outcomes and how progress towards these will be assessed.
As mentioned previously, planning is critical. It doesn’t have to be complicated, however, it needs to be strategically aligned with both organizational goals and objectives. Once you are aligned with your organizational priorities (understanding how your organization makes and spends money) you are better positioned to collaborate and more likely to tap into the full potential of communication.
Teams with little resources are often the most creative. In contrast larger communication teams often miss opportunities by thinking small and fixating on their own activities and outputs focusing on what can be measured instead of what should be measured.
For instance. There is nothing new under the sun and viral stunts and gimmicks are two-a-penny. Organizations need and thrive on sustainable success. Therefore, tactical thinking lacking in foresight and objectivity will always be a flash in the pan. Worse still It could potentially limit your credibility, ruin reputation, and erode trust with both internal and external stakeholders. By focusing your plan on building trust internally, you can help generate greater access to data and understanding.
As an example, when you participate with other internal teams for surveys you can contribute with actionable feedback e.g., recognizing the difference in the varying stakeholders’ language and offering useful input to help define the message. If you can develop positive collaboration between advertising, human resources, marketing, and sales, then you will be able to attribute accurate impact caused, in full or in part, by your communication.
Q4. What tools are available to help communicators with planning?
How does one go from a blank sheet of paper to the master plan? Just as there are innumerable ways to solve any problem, there are multiple planning tool options available that will allow the harried planning professional to select the one that best fits the needs of their organization.
There are many diverse online tools in the marketplace for sale as well as pay-to-play consultants who specialize in planning at a price. I will focus on free tools that work for every strategic thinker with the ambition of acquiring effective planning strategies.
My preferred recommendation is the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) Integrated Evaluation Framework (IEF), a free online resource. This framework not only assists with initial planning, but also allows for contiguous resolutions that will impact your objectives, activities and tactics providing real communication value. By completing the requested fields in the framework, professionals can map their strategies and subsequent impacts, progressing them quickly from a blank page to a comprehensive one-page plan.
The availability of password-protected credentialed access allows strategists to modify plans should circumstance or stakeholder scope change*. Professionals who use the AMEC IEF have the luxury and utility of a one-sheet solution. By utilizing the proscribed framework, they can share with internal stakeholders, recruit outside assistance, and ultimately hold team members accountable. The IEF is an ideal resource to keep your team(s) focused on the program’s most important elements. It allows contributors to understand the direct connection of their efforts to the plan, stimulating team member contributions and removing inherent barriers.
This framework adapts to support customized local and global initiatives and can easily be reduced to an excel sheet. Teams are able to identify appropriate fields and populate them with activities and key messages: What is the objective? Who is the audience? What are you saying? How are you saying it? Who is saying it? Where are you saying it? What results are caused in full or in part by your communication?
SWOT is another strategic planning tool:
Post-COVID, I expect CATWOE will be an important companion to SWOT.
CATWOE will be an especially effective complement to your planning if your organization has moved from Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to Corporate Social Activism (CSA).
Finally, in my free planning tools list is the PLAY model from Mischief, which is available in the AMEC Planning Primer.
P- Problem (What are the commercial and communication objectives? What is the current situation and why? What needs to change?)
L- Look at the audience (Who are they? How are they behaving? Why?)
A- Ask how you will earn attention? (What influences our audience? What is the convention in the category? What content will best influence the influencers?)
Y- You’ll know you have done it when (what does success look like?)
There are both simple and complex planning tools available regardless your expertise or budget. The most important consideration for you as a strategist is to ensure that whichever tool you use, the ultimate product of your efforts reflects SMART or SMARTER objectives, which align with your organization, mission and culture.
Johna Burke is the Global Managing Director of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), A member of the Institute for Public Relations(IPR) Measurement Commission, is in the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame and was most recently inducted into the ICCO Hall of Fame. She is passionate about helping professionals transform their communication from good to exceptional by applying best practices combined with data and analytics.