10 [Math-free] Steps to Setting Up a Successful Measurement Program

This article originally appeared in the October 26, 2015 issue of PR News.

I will never forget one of my first experiences in PR measurement. I was talking to a smart young man about a calculation I found intriguing. He interrupted and said, “I do PR. I don’t do math.” That was the first time I explained that you don’t need to excel at math to measure the success of your PR efforts. Excel spreadsheets do the math for you. Seriously, though, measurement is about far more than numbers.

Effective measurement looks behind the numbers to find insights—ways to optimize strategy to ensure that messages resonate with your audiences. Numbers are results; they do not represent the impact of your PR efforts.

As an analogy, when you take a trip, you tally the number of miles that you drove for the day. Those miles are the results of your driving. If you use GPS, you also will be advised if there is a better route to take to make your journey better—perhaps there are breathtaking viewpoints to enjoy along the way or a different route that will avoid traffic. The GPS gives you insights that the odometer does not.

Similarly, a successful measurement program combines numbers (quantitative results) with insights (qualitative outcomes). Data drives the strategy.

Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis

One month ago, AMEC launched Barcelona Principles 2.0, an update to the set of seven principles for measurement first released in 2010. Agencies, corporations, organizations and government units have adopted them since then.

Barcelona Principle #4 states: “Measurement and Evaluation Require Both Qualitative and Quantitative Methods.”

This principle underlines that qualitative information plays an important role in measurement, adding color and context to help you understand the “why” behind quantitative numbers.

But how do you get there? How can you find the best data and then deliver quality insights and recommendations to help revise strategies and deliver a bigger impact? Below are ten steps to help you set up a successful measurement program.

  1. Define Business and Communications Goals: Measurement against defined goals is fundamental to good PR programs. It’s obvious, but often overlooked.

  2. Review Your Target Audiences: Externally, what audiences do you target as a goal for your messages to reach? Are they consumers, partners, influencers, students, academics, employees, government or industry leaders? Understanding your external audiences will help you choose media channels and metrics in your measurement program. Internally, is the audience senior leadership, the C-suite, your client or your team? Similarly, knowing your internal audiences helps you pick the format and visualization of your report.

  3. Choose Your Media Channels Based on Those Audiences: Just because Twitter generates a high volume of conversations doesn’t mean that your target audiences are listening. If you’re not sure which media channels are important to your target audiences, conduct an audit to find out.

  4. Select Metrics Based on Goals, Audiences and Channels: If your audiences mainly read newspapers or watch TV news, you won’t choose engagement metrics such as shares or retweets.

  5. Find the Best Tools to Report on Those Metrics: If your audiences are most interested in print media, tools that pull data from online news sites might not suffice. Should audiences gravitate toward social channels, tools that provide broadcast or print data are unnecessary. When your audiences find information from multiple sources, a tool must provide data from all media channels, or you’ll need a combination of tools.

  6. Develop Your Search Strings, Pull the Data and Optimize It: Spend time to create complex search strings that eliminate noise, so you can return quality data based on relevant information. In addition to company names, messages and topics that are most important for your analysis, search strings should include words that reflect objectives. For example, if increased thought leadership is an objective, your string might include search terms that pull coverage about research studies, white papers, speaking events or industry conferences. After you apply the search string in your analytics tools, review the data. If there are irrelevant results, add exclusionary words to the string to eliminate noise. For example, if results for an analysis about government include police stories that are irrelevant, update your search string to exclude crime and police stories.

  7. Analysis: Sort the data so you can visualize it in different ways. This helps to find trends and insights. When reviewing the data, look for the reasons behind the numbers. Ask yourself what happened, why it happened, and if it matters. Look for successes and missed opportunities in relation to your business and communications goals and objectives. Develop data-driven recommendations for future action and/or revised strategy. Typically recommendations are based on trends in the media landscape, in addition to an examination of which of your messages and tactics resonated in the media and which did not work.

  8. Provide the Best Visualization to Represent Findings: Does your internal audience have time to review an online dashboard with real-time results? Or does it prefer to receive slides with charts and insights?

  9. Revise Strategy Based on the Insights: Meaningful reports show what resonates in media. They provide reasons, backed by data, to adjust your strategy.

  10. Repeat Monthly or Quarterly: The media landscape is changing constantly. By repeating analysis each month or quarter, you can measure success and react in a timely manner.

In summary, you can avoid advanced math. But you need an effective measurement program that will help chart a course of strategic change in the future.

Margot Savell, SVP, Head of Global Measurement, Research+Data Insights. Margot also serves as the North America Co-Chair of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication

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