The debate has raged on for decades, and I’m not talking about the Beatles and the Stones. How do you measure public relations effectiveness?
Back in the day, ad equivalency was the barometer. But once we realized that paid media placements and earned media placements couldn’t be further from the same, we turned to media output - clips, coverage and potential audience. Just before the turn of the century, PR academics (a mutually exclusive term) drafted the Barcelona Principles which basically allowed that outcome (not output) was what was important in measuring communications campaigns. And, in the last few years, the Institute for Public Relations has developed a set of research standards that companies, organizations and individuals are pledging to adhere to in regards to public relations measurement.
But it is all much simpler than that, in concept at least. Determine the measurable objective and you’ll be able to measure the impact your communications had. If you’re trying to change behavior (increase sales, reduce employer turnover, etc.) you try to measure that change in behavior.
If you’re trying to change awareness and/or attitudes, then measure changes in awareness and/or attitudes. This will most likely be done through pre- and post-program surveys. If you’re trying to increase positive media coverage then you need to count clips, and the content and tone of those clips.
It is often difficult to get clients to agree on objectives up front. They want to dive in and measure before everyone is clear on what we are measuring and why. Many PR efforts fail because they don’t have objectives to guide strategies and tactics.
Developing a list of objectives for clients, or working in tandem with them, identifying the measurable objectives is critical to successful evaluation. Measurable objectives come from identifying business objectives and determining what communications objectives will support achieving them.
Develop a measurable communications objective, and strategy and tactics that support your communications goal, will support the business goal. It’s outcome not output – and Beatles over Stones.