Proving Communications’ Worth: From Top-Down to the Bottom Line

For communications executives, it seems there could never be enough how-to articles, best-practices lists or strategic roadmaps about ways in which they can prove their worth to senior management (and clients, for that matter), and their positive impacts on brand value. The pressure to do so in quantifiable, tangible ways has made measurement the proverbial (and oft-clichéd) holy grail of public relations.

“Even though the research shows that there is a direct correlation between PR and the overall value of the brand, it needs to be presented to senior executives in a language they understand,” says Reid Walker, vice president of global communications and sponsorships at Lenovo. “Having the right metrics to demonstrate this is critical in getting senior management buy-in.”

So, with this in mind, and without further ado, the following is a comprehensive collection of how tos, best practices and strategies from leading communications experts.

â–¶ Set objectives. You would be hard-pressed to find a measurement aficionado whose first step wouldn’t involve setting objectives.

According to Ilene Smith, vice president and associate director of Ketchum North America’s Food & Nutrition practice, this can be done by asking yourself/your department the following questions in the context of the organization/client, not the specific campaign:

• What are you trying to achieve (outputs, outcomes, ROI)?

• Is there a hidden goal?

• Is achieving objectives realistic, particularly via PR?

• Will you be measured against PR standards, or against other marketing disciplines?

• What is the best way to reach your goal, and do you have the budget to get there?

Then, based on the answers, she identifies another set of questions to help you home in on the best procedures:

• What is most important for you to measure?

• What do you mean by ROI?

• What are the business goals of the program?

• What are you accountable for, and to whom?

• What resources do you already have in place that will produce measures?

â–¶ Identify the specific returns you want to measure, because ROI is far from the only one. Return on investment may be the most common measure of success, but it is becoming less and less resonant with many management teams because of its inherent ambiguity (investment in what?).

Instead of defaulting to ROI, Smith points to other strategic tools: return on impressions, return on earned media, return on media impact and return on target influence.

In terms of return on media impact, Smith says, “It’s similar to marketing mix modeling, in which statistical analysis determines how much each marketing effort (and other elements) contributes to sales. For PR, look at metrics such as volume and quality of coverage.”

That said, these metrics alone do not paint a compelling picture for the C-suite.

“At Lenovo, coverage volume doesn’t mean anything unless there is context,” Walker says. “One important factor in analyzing coverage quality is tone. It’s also very important to understand where the negative coverage is, monitor it closely and put a plan in place to neutralize it.”

As for measuring the return on target influence, Smith says, “This identifies changes in behavior based on whether or not [audiences] were exposed to the PR program. It ties behavior to business results.”

The following are methods for doing so:

Survey target audiences: Determine awareness, comprehension, attitudes and behavior; expose them to the communications program and related channels.

Conduct statistical analysis: Determine change in probability of desired behavior based on exposure to the communications program.

â–¶ Set benchmarks to put results in context. According to Kathy Collins, senior vice president at TNS Global, this amounts to determine what you are comparing yourself to.

“It [helps] define what worked and what didn’t,” she says, including progress over time and progress relative to competition.

“[When benchmarking], we take a holistic view of our share of voice, mapping it to market share and market cap. We benchmark that figure against the competition. This type of analysis can help you demonstrate that you ‘punch above your weight’ and show how effective your efforts are in relation to resources.”

â–¶ Mine for metrics in social media. Monitoring and analyzing the conversations that take place is similar to measuring the return on target influence, as the very nature of social media makes it easier than ever to identify influencers and to follow them.

“Lenovo is becoming extremely active in social media, between Facebook, Twitter and the many corporate and user-created blogs,” Walker says. “From a PR perspective, it is important that we understand who the key influencers are that drive conversations around our brand.”

To make sense of online conversations, he says, his team is looking at ways to measure and segment conversations in the following way:

Who is talking about the brand? Segments audiences by interests, as social media communities tend to be organized by shared interests.

Do they matter? “Not all conversations matter, so focus on the ones that do,” Walker says. “Identify influencers and leverage them.”

How do you act on it? “Analysis and metrics should map out according to business needs and actions,” Walker says. “Link metrics back to business results.”

Ultimately, taking all of these steps to gather useful information and to put it into context will provide you with results that you can take to the C-suite. This should subsequently confirm to senior management what you and your peers already knew:

“PR shapes what stakeholders see and know about the company,” Collins says. “We are the keepers, shapers and reporters of our company’s image and reputation.” PRN


Reid Walker,; Kathy Collins,; Ilene Smith,