19th November 2019

The measure of a plan

It’s the age-old question invariably raised around every boardroom table: what does success look like?

Whether you’re the one being asked or the person doing the asking, it’s a question that provokes much head-scratching and furrowed brows. How do you define success and achievements in a measurable, calculated way?

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this question—there’s no secret formula or eureka moment. Let me explain why.

Just like the businesses that set them, no two business objectives are the same.

Why is it, then, that we don’t consider how we measure the success of a business campaign, communications or otherwise, in the same way?

Measurement is fundamental to evaluating achievements, but it’s only worth doing if that measurement is meaningful and considered.

For communications agencies and their clients, there is no one-size-fits-all or just-take-it-down-from-the-shelf method of defining success. It is so much more nuanced.

Poor standards

There are a couple of conclusions that we can probably all agree on in our search for answers:

  • AVE (advertising value equivalent) is not the absolute measure of success.

  • Analysis of media coverage in isolation does not a successful campaign make.

For too long, PR and marketing teams have defaulted to the ‘industry standard’ of AVE as a measurement of success because, for decades, it was the only standard in town.

Despite the fast-changing nature of communications, in the absence of a viable alternative, familiarity has prevailed.

Where a short-term view of AVE fails, a long-term view of sentiment achieves a great deal more. Sentiment is a more valuable measure of success because it allows for real-time assessment and analysis of how receptive an audience group is, which in turn indicates how likely they are to show support or take action.

For businesses, organisations, and individuals, sentiment provides a framework from which credible and integrated metrics can be defined. These metrics give a more complete picture of success that, crucially, are tailored to overall strategic objectives.

For measurement purposes, sentiment provides the platform from which to track not only outputs (media hits, meetings secured, followers gained), but outcomes too (growth in bottom line, increase in footfall, greater public awareness, and political support gained).

Read them, enjoy them — but leave the ruler and rate cards at home.

Not least for this reason do we view measurement, and in turn assigning KPIs, as a collaborative process; the better we understand an organisation’s overall goals, the better able we are to define realistic and quantifiable metrics that can realise these objectives over the course of a defined period.

This requires the agency and the client to spend time together at the start of a process to work out the fundamentals. For example:

  • What action do we want the target audience to take and over what timeframe?

  • What information or knowledge do we want to share with this audience group and what motivation do we need to provide them with to act (or react)?

  • Across what platforms can we best communicate to maximise reach and cut-through?

In determining what is relevant, we are forming the benchmark from which all subsequent communications activities and campaigns can be assessed.

This can then be tracked at regular intervals (and/or for the duration of a campaign) through both a qualitative and quantitative approach that is supplemented and complemented by traditional monitoring (media, social/digital, and public affairs).

This integrated approach ensures that we are not relying on so-called ‘vanity’ or numerical metrics to measure success. Although they are indicators of ‘progress’, they provide little insight or confirmation that a business objective or strategic goal has been achieved. Instead, we can more confidently track the right kind of engagement, awareness, and action.

Built for success

Simply signing up to a measurement framework is not enough, however. It’s crucial that a review of successes and measurement metrics is not left to the end of a campaign.

Rather, these should be monitored in real-time for the duration of a campaign, thereby allowing for problem-solving of any issues in an open, transparent, and up-to-the-minute manner.

Regardless of what side of the boardroom table we sit at, we should not be afraid of KPIs and other so-called measurement metrics.

If nothing else, for all of us starting out on a process or project, they are the measure of our ambitions.

About the author

Nuala Ryan is Client Director at PR360, specialising in brand strategy and communications. Nuala helps clients find their distinctive voice and turn their narrative into a creative concept, strategic approach and engaging execution. Wherever there is strong coffee and good company, you’ll find her.

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