Communications Research and Evaluation: Begin Simply. Simply Begin.

Editor’s Note: Chief Insights Officer Mark Weiner’s commitment to inspiring PR teams of every size to begin measuring their communications work led to his partnership with PublicRelay. Like Mark, we strive to support communications teams at every stage of PR Measurement – from simple, entry-level evaluation to more advanced PR attribution programs. And what better way than to join forces?

One of the biggest and most pervasive myths in public relations is that good measurement must be expensive and complicated. Years ago, speaking at a public relations conference, I shared stories from a variety of Fortune 500 clients. This seemed like the best way to make an impact on the importance of communications research, after all, if the biggest PR departments invested in research, everyone should. Then, a member of the audience commented, “I know what you’re saying is right, but I don’t have a Fortune 500 budget. So, rather than doing it wrong, I choose not to measure at all.” At that moment, I realized that in promoting my position, I perpetuated the myth I’m committed to dispelling.   

In fact, research is more accessible now to more professional communicators than ever before. The Institute for Public Relations and AMEC offer all the guidance you’ll need including case studies, methodology, and instructional frameworks. What’s more, communications technology platforms are now ubiquitous and at many price points.

Start With Simple PR Measurement

Even if management isn’t demanding PR measurement, you should consider what can be done and the positive effects of simple measurement. As you’ll certainly see on the IPR and AMEC websites, the measurati speak of four types of measures:

1.      Inputs

Inputs track your expenditure in terms of time and money. By monitoring the levels of your investment, you can show how wisely you spent your budget and the efficiency of your actions. When combined with output, outcome, and business measures, your efficiency equation will show your “Cost per ‘X’” where “X” may mean “cost-per-thousand circulation” or “cost-per-positive story” or “cost-per-percentage point of increased awareness.” It’s a good and easy way to begin.

2.      Outputs

Outputs measures what you put out, such as news coverage and social media activity. In addition to simple quantitative tabulations, you can look at qualitative measures like the tone of coverage and the presence of key messages. Keep in mind that technology alone has trouble accurately assessing quality, so be prepared to review the computer’s calculations. Finally, the technology enables competitive analysis to track share-of-voice as well as other comparative measures. 

3.      Outcomes

Outcomes measure the effects of your communications on the awareness, understanding, preferences, and attitudes of your target audience. These answers reside in people’s minds. There are two ways to measure inexpensively: survey technology and social media. Low-cost survey technology allows you to ask respondents the questions that reveal the extent to which – or even if – their positions changed because of your work. Social media enables you to gauge awareness, attitudes, and behavior as evident in posts where people share their opinions about and experiences with your product or service. Social media listening is like a giant unmoderated focus group, and you can learn a lot by simply listening.  

4.      Business Results

The purpose of connecting public relations activity to business results is to demonstrate PR’s ability to affect sales, cost efficiency, and risk mitigation. While certain methods are complicated and expensive, making the “PR-to-sales connection” can happen during times when PR operates in isolation (so there’s no other way to explain the result). You can also study social media results to uncover references to purchase behavior (“I just bought the new improved detergent, and it really works!”). While linking PR with sales is sexy, the most accessible approach to PR’s effect on business outcomes is efficiency. This requires linking PR Inputs with Outcomes to show that you’re doing more with less and for less. By lowering the cost on each positive story (budget divided by positive stories), you’re improving the return of the organization’s investment in PR. Finally, avoiding catastrophic costs is a measure of your good counsel. Compare your crisis averted with a competitor’s crisis and see what it cost them by doing it wrong. Measure their stock performance, their market share, or other data, much of which is publicly available through trade associations and trade media.

Low-Cost Best Practice PR Measurement

One of the best examples of PR research I’ve seen was entered in the PRSA Silver Anvil Awards. A small town submitted an entry that quantified inputs, outputs, and behavioral results – and the campaign cost nothing! The town sought to reduce the number of stolen cars by reminding trusting citizens to remove their keys from the ignition while running routine errands. The program began by tabulating the number of car thefts in the town and comparing their town data with neighboring communities. Once the behavioral benchmark was sent, the town began a media campaign in the local newspaper. Within a few months, car thefts were eliminated. 

Communicate Your PR Performance with Data

Over the past few years, I’ve adopted a new measurement motto: “Begin simply. Simply begin.” By committing fully to PR measurement, even in simple ways, you communicate PR performance in the language of the boardroom. Data transcends language barriers to demonstrate the effect of your good work. What’s more, fundamental measures create an appetite among senior executives for more PR programs, more good results, and more measurement. You, in turn, position yourself for more: bigger budgets, more resources, and greater acclaim.

Ready to show your impact? Download our PR attribution whitepaper to learn how you can connect your communications work to business results now!

# # #

Mark Weiner is Chief Insights Officer for PublicRelay and the author of “PR Technology, Data and Insights: Igniting a Positive Return on Your Communications Investment.”

Originally published in PRNEWS April 2021 issue.

ARTICLE AUTHOR
Mark Weiner

Mark Weiner