4 tactics for keeping measurement in your budget

To begin with, frame it as gathering data for making smarter business decisions, rather than as justification for your own existence.

For three decades I’ve heard communications professionals whine that they want to measure results but they just don’t have the budget for it. Enough already.

Budgeting is a matter of setting priorities. A former client of mine put it this way: “When it came to measurement, you were my right arm. I could always slash off a pinkie, but I was never going to cut off my right arm.”

We stayed in his budget year after year, because he used his data to make better decisions. One year we showed him that a major song-and-dance show they were staging at a trade show was yielding very little in terms of qualified sales leads. Sure, the research cost him $20K or so to do, but he saved $50K out of his trade show budget for every show thereafter.

How do you make measurement your right arm? You do it regularly, you don’t make decisions without it, and you make sure the head honcho knows you’re basing your decisions on solid facts, not hunches.

Here are four tips to make sure measurement stays in your budget:

1. Start with a pilot measurement program, and build on it.

Take the case of a PR firm in upstate New York. Their client was the Economic Development Agency for a county. When they landed the account, they knew there would be lots of questions about how or whether they knew they’d be successful.

So, they put measurement into the budget at $6,500 the first year. It’s not a huge amount, but enough to do ongoing media analysis that would show them how well their messaging and positioning and visibility were stacking up against the competition’s—and with a little left over to do the first part of a pre/post study to determine the impact that PR was having on attitudes and opinions of local leaders.

These measurement programs enabled them to demonstrate solid results their first year. It’s no surprise that for the second year both budgets were increased—the one for measurement and the one for PR.

Most measurement platforms offer 15- or 30-day free trials, so sign up for one just before a major campaign you want to measure. Gather data, create a report, and add some insight. Most managers are pretty easily hooked on data, so chances are good that once they’ve had a taste, they’ll fund the next round.

2. Never make a decision without data to back it up.

A PR manager at a major consumer bank called me to say that her boss wanted her to fire their PR agency because he didn’t think “the results were good enough.” She wanted data on which to make a decision.

I conducted a competitive benchmark analysis to see how news media outlets were covering the industry as a whole. As it turned out, the numbers showed the PR agency was doing a great job, especially compared with the leading competitor.

As MasterCard might say: Cost to collect and analyze the clips: $5,000. Cost to demonstrate results: $2,500. Cost of not wasting time conducting a major agency search: Priceless.

3. Never use measurement to justify your existence.

In each of the cases above, the account manager or PR manager saw measurement as his or her right arm—not as a way to justify his/her existence, but as a necessary tool for making better decisions and advancing the client’s or the organization’s best interest.

Even though the budgets were small, they worked within those parameters and made the choice to keep those funds for research. No boss or client wants to spend money justifying your existence, but they’re nearly always willing to spend money to learn what they can stop doing or what they can do more efficiently.

4. Call it research instead of measurement.

All too often, PR managers put measurement in their initial budgets, only to whittle those funds away when an event goes over budget, or when the VP thinks up a new wrinkle at the last minute. Such budget-cutting leaves you with either poorly conducted research or no research at all. Worst of all, it leaves you with no way of gauging the efficacy of the resources and efforts that you spent all that money on.

Part of the problem is calling it “measurement,” which is often seen as a way to justify one’s existence. If leaders see it as “research to make better decisions, it stays in the budget.”

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