Evaluating Communication - can you be more specific?

I’ve been thinking about outcomes and evaluation and measurement recently. This particular train of thought was prompted by a request for information about what the individual elements of a specific campaign might deliver.

Which is an eminently fair question.

However, it’s not like we’re in advertising, or sales promotion, or CRM here – I can’t say that each €xxx spent will deliver xxx eyeballs, a click-through rate of x.x%, and an uplift in sales in x region of xx%.

I just can’t.

Yes, we can agree clear objectives. Yes, we can be clear on what and when and how much and to what end. We provide years of expertise in how best to deliver the activity. But the nature of the game is storytelling and media relations and – this is the first biggy – I cannot guarantee the outcome.

Way back when, in the days when we used to carry press releases up and down Fleet Street in cleft sticks (no – no, we didn’t – get a grip), there was a thing that I will call Queen Mum Syndrome.

This was based on every newspaper and broadcaster in the land already having front pages and programming schedules ready in case today was the day the ageing Queen Mother popped her clogs.

This was in the UK, but the rule applies across all countries – just substitute an elder statesman, or woman, a major celebrity or sporting icon, and think about how the media will react when, god bless them, they pass on.

Suffice to say, no matter how good your story, if you release it on that day you are going to get next to no traction at all. Despite what you might be told in pitch meetings, unless you are paying for coverage, outcomes are not guaranteed – they depend on many factors.

The second biggy is that storytelling is a long game. Yes, you may luck out and your first story goes viral (as the kids would have it) but usually you need to invest time and effort into building momentum and watching results grow. That’s why it’s called ‘campaigning’.

So asking about what individual elements of the campaign will deliver is never going to be met with a specific answer. We can say what they are intended to deliver and what the delivery might look like – but before the fact, we cannot guarantee anything.

After the fact, you get into the realm of evaluation and measurement, which is a nasty mixture of bog and minefield, if ever I’ve seen one.

Again, way back when, the debate around evaluation and measurement in communication (and how, if a solution was reached, communication would immediately become a serious profession like accountancy) was in full swing. It still is.

Fortunately, there’s now an organisation called AMEC which champions proper measurement in communication (with its Integrated Evaluation Framework).

AMEC does battle with the evil that is Advertising Value Equivalent (a calculation that provides a very rough idea of what coverage might have cost, had you bought it).

Most media monitoring agencies still offer an AVE service however, because they’re still asked for it – and you’d have to be stupid (as a business) to say ‘no’ when it’s a) easy and b) a money-spinner.

Why are they still asked for AVE? Because it’s cheap and easy. Look at the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework. Have a think about how much it would cost – in terms of money and time. Then look at your budget, and decide whether you want to spend some arbitrary figure – probably 25% of your total outlay – on evaluating your activity.

There is some good news, however. Evaluation – knowing whether your campaign has achieved against your objectives – can be simple, cheap and obvious.

I’m talking about getting phone calls from potential investors or business partners, or seeing an increase in sales, or outlets wishing to stock your products. Perhaps an increase in productivity, or positive feedback from your employees.

Once upon a time, after a busy day, I repaired to the pub for a restorative pint or two. My day had been spent talking to the media about a story dealing with lifestyle trends and some of my company’s products.

As I stood at the bar, I earwigged on a conversation taking place next to me. Two blokes were having a heated discussion about my story, the one I’d issued that morning, and which they’d clearly heard on the radio, or read in the evening paper.

That, I thought – as I scarfed my pint – is a result.

If you’d like to know more about getting results from your communication, contact us at info@4TC.ie


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