Measuring ROI: Is Your Communication Strategy Outmoded?

June 24, 2011

The days of using  media hits  to measure public relations success  are long gone, according to research-and-measurement expert Ann Getman, Principal of Getman Strategic Communications in Cambridge, MA. 
At a recent meeting of the Independent Practitioners Network of the Public Relations Society of  America’s Boston Chapter,  Getman, who works with companies and nonprofits, advised measuring outreach campaigns in three phases: outputs, outtakes, and outcomes.
Outputs
Outputs are “short-term quantitative measures of what was put out to target audiences, including process measures (activities directed at raising visibility) and product,”  Getman said. Outputs include events, meetings, appearances, presentations, trade shows, or press release, press kits, brochures, trade show booth, tweets and the like.
Traditionally, she  said,  PR  firms have measured their success by counting the number of times an organization’s name  appeared in print on broadcasts; column inches or length of broadcast;  potential exposures if every reader or viewer in the market saw the article or segment;  the comparable cost for  reaching as many people with paid ads;  or public opinion polls measuring awareness, opinion and intent at one point in time.
Outtakes
A more effective measure, in her view,   is of  “outtakes.”  That is, what audiences take away from the communication–whether messages were received, understood, recalled or retained.
 Outtakes may be  measured through direct responses via mail,  phone, fax, email or  Web pages; letters to an editor, organization or individual; calls to a hotline or 800-number;  recall and retention studies; visits to an office, program or site,  reported intent to behave in a certain way;  requests for information or materials; visits to a question and answer or FAQ page on a Web site, focus groups demonstrating a change of awareness; “before and after” surveys, or mentions in blogs.
Content analysis assigns quantitative values to the key elements of messages in order to measures changes in the tone, language or topics of media coverage; accuracy of key facts and points, or  sources cited. 
Outcomes
Outcome research, Getman says, measures the impact of communications programs on behavior and how well a campaign has fulfilled an organization’s  objectives in launching it. Was there a change in the communications flow, employee participation or retention? Were desired actions taken by opinion leaders? Have donations increased?  Response rate to direct mail improved?  Was the quality of job applicants effected?   The amount and quality of media coverage? What about the company’s market position,  customer awareness levels or recognition of its name?
Getman says it’s important to include measurement in a communications campaign before allocating resources for outreach. ” It’s impossible –and disingenuous–  to attach meaningful measures after the fact, and knowing in advance how you’ll evaluate will keep you on target and in focus.” 
I find that my clients m are sometimes  tempted to look directly at the bottom line in measuring success:  has increased media coverage led directly to increased sales?   Depending on the product and the type of company,  the answer is, sometimes, “yes.”
But, more  often, the coverage leads to Web hits or inquiries;  if the right audiences have been  targeted, it’s then up to the sales team to bring the customers in.
At times, though, it’s difficult to quantify just what led to a specific goal.
For example,  after a conference for which I garnered  national and international media coverage, my client, a small research institute,  received a  multimillion dollar grant from a health insurance company to launch a new research center.  Did the increased visibility and prestige help
Probably. Would the hoped-for grant have come through anyway? Much as I believe in quantifying success…that’s something we will never know.

Anita Harris

Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a public relations and marketing communications firm in Cambridge, MA.

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