PR pros can’t get clear business objectives from their clients and bosses, and if they do, leadership isn’t always clear about how they expect communications to contribute to those business goals.
That’s one of the biggest complaints I hear from agencies, as well as a surprisingly large number of in-house communications professionals.
If that’s the case in your organization, my advice would be to make up your own business goals, present them to leaders (or the client), and tell him/her that unless you hear otherwise in the next few days, this is what you’ll be measuring against.
That may seem daunting, but it’s easier that you think if you follow these rules:
1. Measure your contribution to your culture and mission.
A company’s culture and its mission constitute an evergreen set of values that supersede and outlast strategic plans, annual KPIs, quarterly goals and all the other drivers of corporate dashboards. Its mission is the organization’s reason and purpose for existing.
If you work for a company like Southwest Airlines, where your company’s core foundation is its culture, defining metrics is easy. Your choices will always be driven by culture. At Southwest it’s all about giving people “the freedom to fly.” So when they report on their results, they quantify the extent to which their external and internal media reflects that culture—the extent to which employees delight customers, the extent to which their employees volunteer in their communities, and the extent to which employees and customers engage with their message. As a result, its stock price, its ESG score and its reputation consistently outrank the competition’s.
Marathon Oil’s culture is all about safety, so executives don’t just look at short-term financial goals; they measure effectiveness of their decisions in terms of the safety of the communities they impact.
We can all learn from companies like this, so if your organization has a strong culture and a clear mission, create metrics that show how your communication efforts enhance and support that culture.
2. Tie your metrics to the strategic plan.
Sadly, a lot of professional communicators work in an environment where culture and mission are so far removed from day-to-day reality that tying your metrics back to them seems feels like a moon shot, so they use whatever activity metrics their agency or clipping service throws up. The problem is that those metrics are even further removed from business or mission-related metrics than the moon.
So your next stop is to study the strategic plan. Most organizations put them out every few years as a guide to decision-making to make sure the organization ends up in the markets with the customers it needs in order to grow. Generally they have from three to five major initiatives that typically focus on sales, market share, new products and/or new markets.
- Gather your team, sit down with the strategic plan, and brainstorm about how what you do every day that can or will support that plan. Once you’ve defined those contributions, continue your brainstorming about potential indicators affirming that your efforts are affecting the strategic objectives. For example, if part of the strategy is to expand sales in new markets, you might want to increase your share of visibility or virality in those markets. Your metric might be: “Increase share of desirable voice in xyz market.”
- If the strategic plans include new products, a common indicator of engagement with a new product or initiative might be downloading information about it, so your metric might be an increase in downloads from the website.
- If the strategic plan includes a shift in your market positioning, you can measure your contribution to that by tracking the degree to which your brand is associated with that positioning in social media and traditional media compared against other competing brands.
Now focus on those metrics that tie to the plan, and ignore any irrelevant data that doesn’t relate to key strategic initiatives. No one has the bandwidth to deal with all the various data points that all the various vendors and dashboards can produce, so focus on the ones that are relevant.
3. When all else fails, tie your metrics to the stakeholders.
The one thing that unites sales, marketing, finance and communications is concern for the stakeholders. So you can never go wrong by focusing your measurement program around key stakeholders.
Start by listing all the stakeholders that are most important to your business. Now, rank them from most important to least. Focus on the top two or three stakeholder groups.
Next put yourself in their shoes; if you don’t know what walking a mile in their shoes feels like, advocate for research to find out—or spend a week in sales.
When I was a young marketing manager at Hewlett Packard, we were about to reinvent how the company communicated with its dealers—the folks that carried HP calculators and printers and who, we hoped, would soon carry our laptops and LaserJets. My very smart boss, Resa Pearson, sent all of us out to spend a week talking with dealers in different parts of the country to find out how they wanted us to support them and how they wanted to be communicated with. In part because we understood the needs of the people we were communicating with, our product launch materials were among the most successful (both in terms of dealer reception and orders) in company history.
If you really don’t have the budget to ask stakeholders what their issues are, just be human. Think about what their lives might be like, and then do a little research online to find existing data on what it’s like to work in their industry or have their job.
Now, formulate your objectives about what might make them think or act in a way that benefits your organization. Translate that into tangible terms, things that you can count—engagement on a website, attendance at an event, signing a petition, etc.
Take those metrics to senior leadership to show how you are, in fact, making it easier to sell into that target audience.