How to Get the Most from Your Research and Evaluation Investment

It’s that time of year: 2022 planning is about to begin, if it hasn’t already. It’s the season for reevaluating objectives, reviewing investment decisions and reflecting on the New Year.

Every autumn, the dualities of research and evaluation emerge: we rely on data and analysis providers to help evaluate our year-to-date performance and depend on their data to inform communication decisions. Simultaneously, and perhaps ironically, as we look to analytics providers to inform our performance evaluation, we evaluate them as the annual renewal approaches.

So, as we seek to quantify the degree to which PR delivered a positive ROI, we must ask whether our research provider delivered a positive return on our investment in it.

Typically, the initial decision to engage an outside measurement provider is difficult. The communicator should ask:

  • What is our objective for research and evaluation? What’s the balance between proving value and improving performance?
  • What measures communicate PR performance to our clients (internal and external)?
  • Do we want a lower cost, do-it-yourself (DIY) SaaS solution or a higher cost provider to do research for us?
  • If we prefer DIY, do we have the in-house talent and bandwidth to manage a platform? Do we need to hire a data-minded systems operator?
  • If we outsource, do we have the budget to support the investment? And will we get a positive return?

The foundation for choosing and retaining a research and evaluation partner depends on an organization’s objectives, its communication goals and how well the measurement provider helps you meet or beat them.

Evolution, PR Value and Audits

Years ago, I assumed that the only reason to conduct communication research was to improve performance by minimizing risk and optimizing the probability for success.

It didn’t take long to realize that while improving performance was one motivation, the desire to ‘prove the value of PR’ was much more dominant. Of course, we need both and priorities may change over time.

The challenge every communicator must overcome–and their research partner shares this burden–is uncovering the true PR value equation that exists in the minds of executives who fund and evaluate communication programs.

Target Audience

So, to determine if, and the degree to which, your research partner is the right fit, the advice is similar to any other good communication initiative: consider the target audience.

Does your data partner provide the insight and guidance your executives need to understand and evaluate decisions? If so, then you’re on the right track.

To assess how well your research partner elevates performance and communicates PR’s unique value (not to mention its contribution to the enterprise’s success), ask executives who evaluate your performance and control budgets.To do this effectively, and in light of the gravity of the outcome, we recommend an Executive Audit to manage expectations, set objectives and then meet or beat both.

Audit Details

We offer these guidelines for your audit:

  • Employ online questionnaires that require not more than 10 minutes for key executives to complete
  • Probe for key indicators of PR success and the extent to which you and your competitors deliver on these measures (Can your research partner provide them?
  • Questions focusing on executives’ preferences and priorities on key messages and at the appropriate levels: Corporate? Business Unit? Brand? How easy or difficult is it to track at the message level with your current provider?
  • How well does your team deliver on your professional responsibilities to be responsive and accessible and provide actionable business and communication insights? How well does your research partner help you deliver what executives value most?
  • What do key executives consider the most important measures of communication success?

Media Coverage (How well does your partner deliver on quantity and quality?

Program Outcomes (To what degree does your research partner reflect what’s on the mind of the target audience?

Business Results (Can your partner tie communication performance to target audience behavior, purchase activity, loyalty and more?)

  • What is the preferred frequency, structure and level of reporting? Does your partner let you deliver at the speed of business?
  • Competitive Performance (Does your partner enable you to easily track competitors and evaluate their performance versus your own?)
  • Predictive Analytics (To what degree does your partner enable you to plan for the future?)
  • New and Traditional (What’s the relative importance of the interrelationship between traditional and social channels? Does your partner provide both?)

Beyond the metrics, to what degree do you and those you represent want or expect interpretive analysis and strategic guidance? And to what extent does your research provider deliver the salience and consultation you seek? Does the partner function as a software platform, a data scientist and/or a research-informed communication consultant?

It’s common for one’s involvement with communication research and evaluation to evolve. A DIY platform may be good enough to begin (my motto: “Begin simply. Simply begin.”), but it may be unable to evolve with you. Research often begets more questions, which require you go deeper and wider to provide answers.

Communicators often find themselves and their organizations evolving beyond the limitations of what technology alone can provide. At those times, you need to hire talent to unleash the power of the DIY platform or find a firm that provides real-time SaaS access with all the benefits of a data-informed communication consultant. In every organization, priorities change. As a result, the services and partners on whom we rely must evolve.

Mark’s new book is “PR Technology, Data and Insights” (Kogan Page)