Thursday, May 29, 2014

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part II: Evaluating Your Success Against Your Goal)

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part II: Evaluating Your Success Against Your Goal)

In my last Blog I wrote about how to set measurable communications objectives that are linked to the business goals of your organization.  In this Blog I will outline how to evaluate the success of your program against your communications objectives.

As you will recall, our business goal was sales, and the measurable communications goal we derived to support sales was:
  • Increase awareness of the product by 10%
    • Among U.S. women (or women in a specified market)
    • With children five-years old and younger
    • Household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000
  • Within six months
Measuring An Outtake Goal
To measure your success, you would want to do a pre- and post-campaign survey of the target audience as defined above to determine the change in awareness before and after the campaign. In the best of all worlds you would do this survey by telephone. To reduce costs, you could buy one or two questions in a reputable omnibus survey, such as the one done by Opinion Research, and have them cut the data to represent the target audience definition. This should only cost you a few thousand dollars per question.

"A survey!" I hear some of you saying. "Those are expensive. What about our media and content analysis service. Can't we evaluate using that?"

Measuring An Output Goal
Yes, you can, but it takes you one step further from the business goal you are trying to support. Our business goal is increase sales; this is what we in measurement call an outcome goal. Our communications goal is increase awareness among the target audience by 10% within six months;.this is what we call an outtake goal. If we have not the budget or for some other reason cannot measure awareness, we can step down to how you expect to achieve the communications goal and create an output goal.

In this case we assume that if we get coverage in traditional, digital or social media that we know reach our target audience, that some part of our target audience will see the coverage, become aware of our product as a result and buy it. These are all fair assumptions, but, as you can see, we're getting to be a number of assumptions away from the business goal. Our output goal might be some number of impressions that carry our message in the media we know reach our target audience. To measure our success, we then need to monitor those media and evaluate the coverage to ensure that it actually carries our message points. It also is useful to determine how much competitive coverage is mixed in with ours. For example, are we in a round up story including all the competitors? If so, how did we come out? Is it a feature story only on us? Obviously, these would be rated differently in terms of the success of the output.

Getting Your Media Analysis Vendor To Provide What You Really Need
One of the problems many media analysis vendors have is they do not understand PR very well, and they do not know how to articulate output objectives that support communications (outtake or business objectives. Consequently, when they set up their programs for clients, they end up measuring the wrong things and their measures have limited usefulness in assessing the success of campaigns. If you as a practitioner can make explicit what the business, communications (outtake) and output goals are, you will be in a strong position to demand from your vendor that she provide metrics that enable you to evaluate your output. If she cannot, find another vendor who can. There are good ones out there.

Measuring By Activity
Now to the lone practitioner who has virtually no budget. I meet these folks regularly. They want to demonstrate their value to their clients, but their clients have budgets so small that any kind of external evaluation is out of the question. In these cases I still suggest research, but it is the up front research that should drive all PR. Identify the target audience for the business goal, determine through further research the kind of message that is likely to persuade that target audience to behave in the way that will enable the business to achieve its goal and identify the media that will reach that target audience. Unfortunately, with limited resources the research to do this may not be as sophisticated as we would like. Much of it may come from those who are in contact with customers. Perhaps the practitioner can talk to some customers herself to find out why they buy and how they find out about the product.

But once that is done, set some specific targets. For example, if your research suggests your target reads some specific trade magazines (traditional or digital) and blogs, make a list of them and make your goal be to get your client's product mentioned in six (or some other reasonable number) of these media venues in the next six months. Make this agreement with your client.

Here, too, you might be able to get unique URL in the material you place, which would give you an actual link to behavior in the form of web site visits that would lead to achieving your client's business goal.

What's Stopping You?
So, it can be done. The only thing that's really stopping most practitioners is the fear that measurement will show they have not achieved their objective. That's just unprofessional. How will you ever get any better at your profession if you don't regularly assess how well you're doing?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part I: Setting Goals)

How To Link Communications to Your Organization's Business Goals and Objectives (Part I: Setting Goals)

According to research done by Jim Sinkinson, publisher of The Bulldog Reporter, one reason PR practitioners have trouble adhering to the Barcelona Principles is they don't know how to set measurable objectives. Another is they have trouble tying their results to corporate strategic objectives.

In my next two Blogs, I'll outline how to do both.

For reference, I wrote a paper with Linda Hadley on this topic for the Institute of Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation back in 1999. David Rockland, Mark Weiner and I updated that paper in 2010.

Tying Communications Results to Corporate Objectives
To tie communications results to corporate objectives, you need to start with corporate objectives. These might be:
  • Increase sales
  • Increase share price 
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Reduce supplier costs
  • Etc.
Sometimes you can tie a communications campaign directly to a business result. But this is unusual because communications is usually only a part of what makes behavior happen. In sales, for example, price, supply, shelf placement, advertising, promotion, competition and many other factors affect a sale. With share price, management's business model and strategy must be solid, no matter how good the communication. With employee turnover, research I have done suggests an employee's immediate supervisor has a much greater effect on retaining that employee than does communications. Some sophisticated organizations are using marketing modeling programs to assess the effect of PR on sales. You can find a paper on that here.

Unique Internet Links
Another way to tie communications directly to business outcomes in our online world is to include unique links for actions. For example if you can get a "for more information" link in the material you place, make it go to a unique page. Then you can not only get credit for the information request, but you may also be able to track the person who made the request on to sales. 

The Communications Goal Link
Though we can rarely tie the effect of communications directly to achieving a business goal, we can articulate a communications goal that supports the business goal your organization is trying to achieve. Some useful questions to ask before coming up with the communications goal are:
  • Who is the target stakeholder group
  • What does the organization want this group to do (what behavior does it seek)
  • By when must this be accomplished

A Measurable Communications Goal
Let's take our first business goal as an example: Increase sales. What will increase sales depends very much on what you are selling, who you are selling it to and the general sales environment. But generally speaking, communications might help sales by increasing awareness of the product and its features. By doing homework with the sales and marketing people in your organization and by doing research on your target audience, you should be able to identify the primary barriers to sales and come up with a communications objective that should help achieve the business objective of sales. Let's say that in this case the communications goal that will support increasing sales is:
  • Increase awareness of the product.
However, that's a bit broad. A better communications goal would include a tighter definition of the target audience. Increasing awareness of the product among people who will never buy it would be wasted effort. If our sales target is U.S. women with children five-years old and younger and with household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000, we should include that in our objective. We should also note the time frame. Finally, we should put a stake in the ground and say how much we are going to increase awareness.

So a good communications goal that supports our business goal would be:
  • Increase awareness of the product by 10%
  • Among U.S. women (or women in a specified market)
    • With children five-years old and younger
    • Household incomes of $80,000 to $150,000
  • Within six months

Management Agreement On Goals
You also want to get agreement from your management that this is indeed an acceptable communications goal. Then, when you achieve it, there will be no question about whether you had done the right thing.

Do Research So You Actually Achieve Your Goal
Note, too, that you need to develop a message that appeals to and use media that reach the defined target audience. If you want to succeed, you will need to determine what these are. You may be able to get this information from your marketing and sales people, but you may need to do your own research.

Measuring Success Agains Goals
Next week I will Blog about how to measure your success against your goals.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Evidence from Ad Age that PR Gets Big Data and Analytics

Finally actual evidence from Ad Age that PR agencies understand some of the real potential for big data and analytics:

Though the article doesn't say it, this also suggests small agencies without advertising parents will be at a distinct disadvantage as the agencies with such parents become sophisticated at using the data to which they have access.

Friday, March 7, 2014

More Successful Online Surveys Tip 3: Design the Research Correctly

In my earlier Blog, 11 Tips for Doing More Successful Online Surveys, the third tip was "Design the Research Correctly." By this I mean: don't do an online survey if some other kind of research is more appropriate.

Online surveys are a great research tool, but they are only one tool. Alternative tools are:
  • Other kinds of surveys, such as telephone, mail and door-to-door surveys
  • Qualitative research, such as focus groups and one-on-one interviews
  • Secondary research, such as online searches of the Internet and specific data bases as well as good old library research

Secondary and Qualitative Research
In the example I've used in my last two blogs (One Way Research Can Help You to the Management Table and More Successful Online Surveys Tip 2: Get the Question Right), we've used as an example a not for profit that's suffering from decreasing contributions. The first research I recommended in this hypothetical case was reviewing internal records to determine where the decrease was coming from. That would be secondary research relying on company data. I also recommended that once we determined the kinds of people who were not giving as much, as frequently or at all, that we talk to a few to find out why. This would be either one-on-one interviews or small focus groups--both forms of qualitative research. After learning some reasons for people not giving as much, we could incorporate those into a survey and quantify it. That is, we could determine which reasons accounted most for the fall in giving.

I assume we could do this survey online, because I assume we would have the e-mails of people who had given in the past. Even if we sent the survey to every person who ever had given to the organization, meaning we sent it to the entire population or a census, we still would probably not get a representative sample of this population, because there likely would be some bias related to those who wanted to respond and those who didn't. But in this case, I don't think it would matter very much whether the sample was completely representative. We're simply trying to get a handle on what's going on, and rough numbers will probably be good enough for that.

If, however, we were doing a survey that was going to be critical to making a very important prediction, such as who will win an election, or on which your organization were going to make a high stakes decision, such as siting a new multi-million- or billion-dollar facility, an online survey might not be the best methodology.

Representative Sample a Prerequisite for Statistic Validity
When the stakes are high, you want your numbers to be as close as possible to the real numbers for the population you are surveying. This means you want your sample to be representative of your population. If your sample is representative (and you avoid other biases), the results you get from your survey will conform to statistical rules, and you can assign probabilities (confidence levels) to how likely it is the percentages for the sample (within specified ranges) represent the true percentages for the population.

Clear Population Definition
Before you pursue your representative sample, you need to clearly define your population. If you wanted to determine who was likely to win an election in Illinois, you would not include people registered to vote in Wisconsin in your poll. You probably would not even include all people registered to vote in Illinois. You would narrow your population to those likely to vote in the next election and might even use a question like that to screen respondents. You would not be able to survey the entire population, so you would want a representative sample of, say, 1,000 of them. 

Definition of Representative (Random) Sample
This means you want a sample in which every member of the population is as likely to be included in the sample as every other member of the population. This is the definition of a random sample, and in order to get one, you need access to every member of the population.

Can You Get a Random Sample Through an Online Survey?
To achieve a representative sample through an online survey, you would need to have a list of the e-mail addresses of every member of the population. You may well have all the emails for all the employees of a given organization or all the customers who have ever purchased a product online. But when you start talking about the U.S. population or the community around a potential factory site, you almost certainly do not have an e-mail for every individual. So, in these cases, some of the people in the population (those for whom you do not have e-mails) do not have the same likelihood of being included in the sample, and you cannot survey a random sample online.*

How Polling Companies Get a Random Sample
Traditionally, polling companies have done this kind of survey by telephone using telephone landlines. Now, because more and more households (especially younger households) are dropping land lines in favor of mobile phones, polling companies use a mixture of randomly selected land-line and mobile-phone numbers to generate representative samples.

Think Through What You Need
I apologize for going into so much detail regarding sampling methodology, but I wanted to make the point that sometimes even when a survey is appropriate, an online survey may not be.

So, returning to my main point, if you want your research to truly help your organization, don't just rely on surveys. Instead, determine what kind of information you actually need and think through the  best way to get it. It may be an online survey, but then again, it may not.

* Another issue with e-mail lists is that you may also have more than one e-mail address for some individuals and only one for others. This increases the likelihood of those with multiple addresses being included in the sample. This, too, reduces the randomness of the sample.

Monday, February 10, 2014

More Successful Online Surveys Tip 2: Get the Question Right

In an earlier Blog I offered 11 tips for doing more successful online surveys. Tip 2 was:
  • Get the research question right. Know what you really want to know and how you will use the information in decision support.
What the Experts Say
Two of the marketing texts I have on my bookshelf quote the same adage on this topic. So, I will continue this potentially plagiaristic tradition and quote them: "a problem well defined is half solved." 

What You Learned in High School and College
Think back to the research papers you had to do in high school and college, and you'll get a sense of how the research question should work. First it needs to capture the specific information need for your organization. But it also needs to be narrow enough to focus the research so your survey doesn't end up taking 30 minutes to complete and generate data that confuses the issue at hand. 

A Case History
In my last Blog I discussed an imaginary case in which a not for profit organization's donations were going down. We determined that our research needed to identify which scenario was drying up funding (fewer funders, funders giving less, fewer new funders, etc.), and once we'd determined that, we would do research with the right group to determine why their behavior had changed and what we needed to do to get them to give at previous or higher levels.

Applying Analytics to the Data We Have
I'd like to point out that the first part of this research--determining which scenario was responsible for the loss of funding--would almost certainly be research into the data the organization already has. It would be applying analytics to the organization's receipt records. So this wouldn't be an external survey but would generate information essential to asking the right research questions and creating a successful survey. This is an important principle: we should take advantage of all the data we have to enrich our understanding of business situations.

Questions and Probable Methodology
So the research questions we would want to address in our followup research are:

  • "Why are funders no longer giving the same amounts they used to (or why are fewer funders giving)?"
  • "What can we do to turn this around?" 

We'd probably want to start with some one-on-one interviews to get a list of reasons why and actions we could take to reverse the situation so we could then survey the right target and determine which reasons and actions are most important to respondents. The answers to these questions likely will be rife with both policy and communications implications.

While we are at it, we might add the question

  • "What communications channels are most appropriate for reaching funders?" 

The Right Questions Focus the Research
So we have three questions that will focus our survey. We've also done background research to ensure we know which set of stakeholders we should be doing our research with. By formulating clear research questions we have given ourselves a solid base for a successful survey.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

One Way Research Can Help You to the Management Table

In my last Blog, I offered 11 tips for doing more successful online surveys. The first tip was:
  1. Understand the business context for the research. Know what business decision will be affected by the research and how. 
Research Should Help Align Your Communications with Your Business Objectives
One of the strengths of research is the thought that goes into it. Done right, it can link your communications programs to the business goals of your organization and help you on your way into the top management group.

An Imaginary Case History
Since most of my readers and I are in communications and marketing, let's suppose we work at a not-for profit organization that fights a disease. Our management comes to us saying we need to do a communications campaign to raise the organization's visibility.

Our first question is, of course: "Why?"

As it turns out, our organization fights the disease by raising funds and then donating those funds to institutions for medical research to find a cure. For the last two years, donations have dropped, and management is in crisis mode. If this trend continues, the organization will fold. 

Management's immediate reaction is that the organization must need more visibility. Or at least more visibility can't hurt, while they try to figure out what the real problems might be. 

However, as communicators, we know that if there are issues with the organization itself, (e.g. donors are losing faith in it, or for some reason do not trust the organization's management) raising visibility could make matters worse, if the trust issue is not addressed first.

   What Research Should We Do?
Now we understand where the request is coming from. We also know, we need to research the business situation before we can do an effective visibility campaign or argue that we should not. We know, too, that the research needs to focus on funding. But what information do we need to help our organization and to communicate effectively about it?

It seems clear the real questions are:
  1. What can we do to reverse the downward funding trend?
  2. Why has our funding dropped? 
Thinking as researchers we might come up with some hypotheses to test. For example:
  1. Funding has dropped because there has been a drop in the number of funders.
  2. Funding has dropped because funders are donating less on average than they used to.
  3. Funding has dropped because we used to have a regular influx of new funders and that has dropped off in either number or average amount. 
And there may be others.

   Internal Analysis
Testing these hypotheses probably is a matter of reviewing internal records on donation sources. And once we know which of the above hypotheses is true, we know who we should target for our external research.

   External Research
Whichever group the initial research suggests, we need to ask these people why they are no longer donating in the way they were. We might start with one-on-one interviews and follow with a survey to quantify our findings. 

   Communications and Business Insights
This information should lead us to understand the root cause of the drop in funding and suggest a messaging strategy. More important, though, it likely will suggest business strategies to better align the organization with its key funding stakeholders. For example, if the problem has to do with something about the organization or its behavior, management likely will need to address that to reverse the funding situation. And making those changes is what the communication should be about. 

A Real Case History
For example, I did work with a not for profit organization that was suffering falling donations. We did interviews with four stakeholder groups and learned that every one had the same complaint: They felt the organization listened to them but never did any of the things they asked.

As it turned out, the organization actually did do some of the things its stakeholders asked of it, but didn't communicate to stakeholders that it had. This could be easily fixed through  increased communications. 

In addition, management decided the organization should be more responsive to its stakeholders. It increased the amount it communicated about the actions it took. It also took the time and effort to explain to stakeholders why it did not take some of the actions stakeholders requested. 

This turned around the fortunes of the organization as donations picked up significantly.

So, by using the research to understand the business issues as well as the communications issues, the communications people who initiated the project made a significant contribution to the management of the organization. And this was recognized by senior management.

                                                                           # # #

If you'd like help working through issues like this with your organization, please contact me.