Analyzing “results” from a communications performance measurement conference

“Until we relate one public relations measure to another…we will never be able to show causation from our communication programs.” Fraser Likely


By Mary Jane Martin, MS, APR

It was Fraser Likely who once said that until we relate one public relations measure to another—whether it be an internal communications or a social media metric—we will never be able to show causation from our communication programs. That is, we will never be able to show that our programs changed behaviour. Likely advocates for a complete set of instructions, complemented by a comprehensive measurement framework—one that puts all the possibilities into a logical order.

Caroline Kealey, developer of the Results Map also calls for a comprehensive and coherent framework for assessing communication strategies. Her framework comprises a full range of performance indicators checked against:

  • previously defined objectives
  • strategic directions
  • key audiences; and
  • tactics

While Kealey doesn’t believe we can go as far as asserting our programs are the cause of behaviour change (i.e., direct cause and effect), she sees communication’s role as directionally aligned with other factors, ones that collectively lead to the achievement of a corporate goal.

While we might not be at the stages championed by these two distinguished practitioners, after attending the February 2015 iteration of the Federated Press’ 16th Communications Performance Measurement Conference in Toronto, I am confident the industry is moving in the direction Likely and Kealey have (separately) proposed.

I am happy to share with readers of PR Conversations some of the measurement best practices discussed at this conference:

Develop strategic objectives before defining measurement tools

Presenters and participants expressed the need for a more planned approach to evaluation. Specifically, strategic objectives and performance indicators need to be developed before determining what measurement tools should be used.

Regardless of whether the practice area is internal communications, reputation management, executive communications or social media, a business objective’s focus at the front end should be on measurable results.

Tie communications objectives to the organization’s mission and vision

Whether it was defining an organization’s “strategic intention” as David Huggins from Andros Consultants proposed, or “starting with why” as Kimberley Stoddart, VP of HR communications does at LEO Pharma, communicators were urged to develop strategic communication objectives and performance indicators directly from the organization’s core purpose, mission and vision.

For LEO Pharma, the result meant achieving buy-in from employees on the company’s patient-centric vision, plus a more consistent voice in external communication.

Optimize social media to measure change and employee engagement

According to Jeff Pekar, change management and communication consultant with Towers Watson, 10 years after its first Change and Communication ROI Study, the company is still witnessing a strong relationship between superior financial performance and effective communication. In fact, client companies with high effectiveness in change management and communications are 3.5 times more likely to outperform—in a significant way—their industry peers.

Pekar detailed a workplace in a constant state of flux, with employers challenged both by globalization and staying competitive, let alone the need to attract and retain talent. Increasingly, employees are diverse and geographically dispersed and have evolving expectations about the terms of their employment, including how they want to be engaged by their employers. In times of change, employers have to connect with employees within an increasingly shorter time frame.

According to Pekar, the most effective companies understand how social enterprise tools, such as Yammer and Jive, are well suited to building a culture of community and information sharing. Per the study, of the 56 per cent of respondents using social media, those using multiple approaches report a stronger impact on community building. Moreover, these organizations are more likely to have the required metrics in place to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their efforts.

RBC is Canada’s most valuable brand (16th globally) and has a history of being named one of the best workplaces in Canada. Jason Jacobs, director of strategic and online communications at RBC Financial is using social media measurement to improve employee engagement by keeping pace with employee expectations.

Jacobs and his team use the resulting metrics to better integrate communication channels and formats for optimal impact. The team’s research has shown that the biggest employee impact doesn’t come from a single channel. Jacobs advised conference participants to use a mix of media in a differentiated but integrated way. For example, his team learned that RBC employees are most engaged in stories about the company’s business strategy and employee pride. In line with the opening measurement experts, Jacobs explained how his team uses every opportunity to measure and better understand employee preferences and behaviours.

Measure senior management communications

As detailed by Marianne Gobeil, every time leaders speak, they put themselves and their organizations at risk. For example, when Tony Hayward claimed the Deepwater Horizon spill was not BP’s fault, its stock price fell from approximately $55USD to $50. It fell again to approximately $43 when he declared he “wanted his life back.”

On the other hand, Gobeil indicated that every communication is an opportunity to advance the leader’s goals and objectives, resulting in greater buy-in and alignment. The need for leaders to speak so others listen, understand and respond is crucial to an organization’s success.

Gobeil has conducted extensive research in measuring the ability of senior management to communicate effectively. She discovered 10 specific skills to be effective communicators. A few of them include: communicating key messages so that they are easily identified and understood; presenting messages with a strong request for action; and conveying why this matters using stories and anecdotes.

Gobeil has ascertained that the most effective leaders make powerful declarations, speak with passion and ensure their messages resonate with their audience. Importantly, their words and actions are consistent and sincere.

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The focus on results and performance as shared by various presenters and attendees at this conference is continuing to bring public relations and corporate communication in line with senior management strategies and expectations.

For communicators this focus is important, as it not only aids our credibility but demonstrates value to our organizations.

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Mary Jane (MJ) Martin, MS, APR, is a communication management consultant specializing in corporate and internal communication. Clients include technology companies, government ministries and agencies, healthcare organizations and financial service companies. Additionally, she is a member of the advisory council of Ryerson University’s professional communication’s program and is an instructor at Ryerson University’s The Chang School, where she teaches public relations planning.

MJ Martin holds a master’s of science degree in communication management from Syracuse University and is an accredited member (APR) of the Canadian Public Relations Society. She is the recipient of numerous national awards in writing and communication planning, and was voted Public Relations Practitioner of the Year in 2012, by CPRS Toronto.

Martin is serving her second consecutive year as president of CPRS Toronto. She is a past chair of IABC/Toronto’s professional independent communicators (PIC) group and recently volunteered as an evaluator for the (global) Gold Quill awards.

Connect with MJ Martin on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.

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2 Replies to “Analyzing “results” from a communications performance measurement conference

  1. Thanks for the insights presented at the February conference, which looks like it was very interesting.

    I particularly appreciate the references to leadership in the Marianne Gobeil talk, and the value leaders can add (or subtract) each time they speak. As you note, “the need for leaders to speak so others listen, understand and respond is crucial to an organization’s success”. Similarly the leaders, and their public relations/communications advisors, need to be able to listen, so that the responses are interpreted appropriately and the organisation can advance along its strategic path.

  2. Thank you for this post and update on some of the discussions at the recent conference. I try to remain positive about the slow moves made by communicators towards evaluation when my heart and head scream out that this really isn’t that difficult.

    As an analogy, I recently had my mum’s new puppy with me for about 10 days (he was 7 weeks old at the time). Everytime he had to tackle a new challenge – such as going up or down the stairs – he screamed like he was being tortured as if shouting: I can’t do this (repeatedly, loudly and on a loop). I have a video of 5 minutes during which time he managed to go down two stairs. The next day, after modelling the other dogs and getting up his confidence, he was trotting quite happily up and down.

    This is how I feel about evaluation and PR/communications. I do wish people would stop screaming about it, take the good advice that you, the speakers and plenty of other people (myself included) have published. Look at how others are doing it – and just do it.

    Start with setting input targets and evaluating them if you must (the two-stair equivalent). But instead of keep crying that evaluation is difficult, I wish people would just get some budget (management will be supportive of spending on evaluation – they are used to doing it for other functions), put some processes in place and dive up and down those stairs.

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