Measurable Objective Is Critical to Successful Evaluation

Forrest W. AndersonThis is the second in a series of five blog posts for Measurement Week.

I have argued for most of my career that the single most important thing people need to remember when measuring the impact of a communications program is their definition of impact, which should come from the initial, measurable objectives of the program. If you’re trying to change behavior (increase sales, reduce employee turnover, etc.) you should try to measure that change in behavior. If you’re trying to change awareness and/or attitudes, you should measure changes in awareness and/or attitudes. Most likely you would do this with a pre- and post-program survey. If you’re trying to increase media coverage, then you might measure clips. If you’re trying to increase positive media coverage, then you need not only to count clips but also to assess the tone of the content in those clips.

In a comment on an interview I did on Jose Mallabo’s Blog, Jo Ann Sweeney noted she had “found it can take lots of effort to convince clients to spend time … agreeing [on] objectives in advance; often clients want to dive in and measure before we are all clear what we are measuring and why.”

Unfortunately, this is true; I’ve experienced the same thing many times. And, I believe this is why many PR efforts fail–they don’t have objectives to guide the strategies and tactics!

As a strategist in PR, I often develop the objectives for clients and then ask them to react to them. This frequently is easier and takes less time than asking the clients to articulate the objectives themselves. This is an important service we, as consultants, can and should perform. As they say, it’s not rocket science; it’s simply a matter of identifying business objectives and determining what communications objectives will support achieving them.

Sometimes clients or agencies will not like this approach because they’ve already decided what they want to do. If this does not support achieving the communications goal that supports the business goal, then they will not have a reason to do what they want. This is perhaps understandable, but poor practice.

I frequently go through what we might call the “increasingly dangerous questions.” For example:

  • When a client says they want to do a media event, I ask “Why?”
  • When they answer “To generate press coverage,” I ask “Why?”
  • When they respond “To help sell their company’s product,” I ask:
  • “How will the coverage do that?”
  • “Do we know who our likely purchasers are?”
  • “Do we know that they read or view the media that we are trying to attract to our media event?”
  • “Do we know that the message we will put out at the media event will appeal to this target audience?

All too frequently, clients are unable to answer these basic questions. And the reason the questions are dangerous is clients don’t like finding out they haven’t thought to ask them.

Actually, I usually go through these in my head. Then I start recommending to my clients that we do the research to answer some of the questions above and then develop a measurable communications objective. This might be: “Increase awareness of product Y and its benefits from 10% to 20% among married women 26 to 45 years old with children in the household and household incomes of $75,000 to $150,000 annually in the Northeastern United States within the next three months.” Our assumption here is that the increase in awareness among this clearly defined target audience will lead to an increase in sales.

If you’re interested in more on writing measurable public relations objectives, Linda Hadley, who was then at Porter Novelli, and I wrote a paper on this topic with help from the Institute for PR’s Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation. Here is the link: PR Objectives White Paper.  And here is an updated version.

Forrest W. Anderson is an independent communications research and strategy consultant. He is a founding member of IPR’s Measurement Commission.

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One Comment

  1. The most common ‘objective’ that I come across (as a strategist and evaluator) is “to raise awareness”. That is another “Why?” question. If measurement and evaluation planning of communication is brought into programme and campaign planning, many of these questions get asked and answered ex ante – thereby achieving more measurable results.

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