Getting your ruler out, again


I’ve been thinking about, and have been confronted recently with, the concept of measuring “public relations success”.

We still flinch, I think, when these words are uttered in the same sentence.

I think two things are worth remembering.

First: define a measurement that can be measured and which has relevance to the context of the moment.

Second, don’t assume that the measurement is going to be a number. This might work for media relations, for example, but if your organisation is talking to the general public (perhaps as a government department providing community services) the measurement of “success” is more subtle, more qualitative, more difficult to capture in ways that CFOs might prefer. Are the cards issued faster? Does the public know what to do and where to turn? Is a department well-regarded, and by whom, and why does this matter?

Neither should you assume that there is a monetary value to the measurement. I’ve mentioned in the past that you should always  remember the financial element in a PR programme or campaign or strategy. By that I mean the business objective, the amount of revenues or profits desired, the amount of costs to be managed, the amount of votes won, or something similar.

But this doesn’t mean a given return of benefit (define “benefit”) for a given amount spent on PR. As we all know, the line connecting the two is long, stretches, and often gets broken.

Many years ago, my then-boss Alan Parker, founder and owner of Brunswick PR in the UK, who knows a thing or two about public relations, said that you know when a media relations campaign has worked when you walk into the boardroom, no ruler needed. A while that sense of gut instinct is perhaps a little unsophisticated for today, we all know when things have worked and when they haven’t. So do our clients.

Here’s one measurement check-list:

  • Define what success looks and feels like.
  • Don’t be blinkered by forcing a financial ROI into the measurements.
  • Ask the right questions of the measurements, and make sure you have the right answers.  The size of a piece of media coverage, and what it might of cost to buy, are the wrong questions and the wrong answers (and both still get asked).
  • Write all this done and get agreements from those to whom these measurements are important.
  • Find a way to assess the pre-programme state, so you can see what’s moved. Understand any limitations of this process, and understand as well that an absolute measurement is probably not needed. Trends will do. And this can be descriptive and qualitative.
  • Share and discuss progress as you go.

About alansmithoz

Head of Strategic Business Communications at Australian social analytics technology company Digivizer, with a background in corporate public relations and marketing. I do what I do because I believe communications can make a difference.
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