Monday, October 19, 2009

Evaluation -- Finding the Path

All too often I see client evaluation programs that do little more than present a count of the number of times the client's name is mentioned in media. The media might include print, broadcast, radio and online, but all that is "measured" is the number of mentions.

For me it is difficult to understand why anyone would consider this to be reasonable measurement of communications success and why any CEO would accept it as such.

As many of you know, I'm on the Institute for PR's Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation. Those of us on the Commission share the point of view that the best measurement gets at business outcomes -- behaviors such as, for example, increased sales or not selling a company's stock in response to a crisis. (For more on the Commission and evaluation, please check out this Institute for PR link.)

Of course the argument against this is that it is difficult to directly link communications activities to these kinds of behaviors. Increased sales might be a response to increased distribution, repackaging, a lower price, or some other promotion. Communications may have helped, but how much?

We don't always have solutions to these issues. Frequently, we really cannot tease out the effect of communications on a sale. It is even more difficult to get at the role of communication in restraint, such as not selling stock. So we often must measure by proxy.

Counting media mentions of one's organization is a proxy, but a very poor one. To create a good proxy, we need to think through what has to happen for the behavior to occur and then measure one or more of these "happenings."

Suppose, for example, your management wants your organization to be recognized as the leader in a specific field of technology. You would want to come to agreement with management regarding which stakeholders were most important for this effort and what "leader" means. And, in the end, you would want to measure stakeholder awareness and attitudes toward your company, because that is where recognition as a leader would lie.

Unfortunately, achieving this perception might take more than a year. It might be a five- or even a ten-year goal. So you would need some interim proxy goals.

The next question is what is the communications strategy that will help the organization get there? From a media perspective, you might argue that you want key editors and reporters to not only perceive your organization as the leader, but also to report it as such. What would that reporting look like? If you observe all the coverage of your competitive set in this technology, you likely will see a number of topics in that coverage. If you understand your organization's business strategy, you can identify topics that will be important for your organization to dominate.

Once you've identified these topics, you then can look at the overall discussion of the technology and assess what your share of that discussion is vs. that of the other members of your competitive set. You also would want to determine how much of your coverage is positive, neutral or negative and how that compares to your competitors.

When you do this, you demonstrate:
  • An understanding of your organization's business goals
  • That you've made considered judgments regarding how media coverage can help your organization achieve those goals
  • That you are measuring how well your company is doing in the media against its competitors
In addition, you can use this information to help you position your company's activities so they will get more of the kind of coverage you and your management wants.

This, again, is a proxy for being recognized as the leader in your field. But it has a very solid strategic basis, which you can present to your management.

I have been involved in evaluation programs like this for Fortune 500 companies, and in every case, the CEOs of those companies have become engaged in and commented on these results. They accept this proxy, because it is well reasoned. There is a path of logic linking the organization's business goal to the media strategy, and a way to periodically measure the success of that media strategy.

So, the next time you consider evaluation, think about the chain of communications occurrences likely to lead to the desired behavior and determine which of these you can measure and how.

To see another example of this logic, see my earlier Blog post on Projecting the Value of a Marketing PR Program.

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