If, as a busy media communicator, you spend a lot of your time either fire-fighting on the one hand or bemoaning the fact that the correct messages are not getting through on the other, the solution may be to set clearer planning goals, clarify the steps needed and then chart progress towards the objective. Easier said than done! Here’s one approach you may find helpful…
Number One – The starting point for setting KPIs should be the business objectives of the organisation! Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but you’d be surprised how many people choose to separate PR messages as if they’re something different! Here’s the route – from Business Objectives…to Communications Objectives…to Media Relations Objectives…to Select channels to use for the right audiences…to Nominate specific routes and news/feature platforms. Use SMART planning (specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, time-bound). For example – exactly which message, where to appear, how many times, with what format/size/profile, and by when? Say what you mean, and mean what you say!
Number 2 – Be sure to measure much more than just a ‘hit’. The really rewarding question is to ask just how good, or just how bad, is the presentation of your message. Unlike advertising which is controlled precisely, news and comment written by third parties comes in all shapes and sizes under the sun. But those third parties, be they in newsprint, broadcast or digital, are vital intermediaries between you and your audiences – it is they who control your message once it leaves you, they who make the impact for you… so you really do need to know how well that message has been presented to that particular audience!
Number 3 – Just because it’s difficult, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Bad managers apply bad numbers. If garbage goes into the system, don’t be surprised when garbage comes out! Every other business discipline uses refined techniques and custom data, and so should professional communicators. Make your planning assumptions, test them, record them, review and then validate the light of experience. Don’t rely on key words alone, define clearly what you want to achieve…and then see if you do!
Number 4 – When judgement and data are taken together the best result is achieved. It is the interaction between the two that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Streams of data alone are meaningless, data in context are much better, data combined with good judgement makes for an unassailable and indestructible entity. Professional communicators owe much to knowledge, skill and intuition… but rigorous evidence-based judgement is so much stronger for your personal reputation, for consistent benchmarking and for the language of business!
Number 5 – The overriding imperative is ‘sanity’ not ‘vanity’. Remember Pareto’s 80/20 Rule and focus your attention rigorously and consistently on the most important, not the outliers. Small is beautiful. Less is more. Which news sources, whether newsprint, broadcast or digital, are the most influential with your audiences? Fix your KPIs with regard to these and don’t attempt to monitor, capture and evaluate all of your news coverage, often an excuse for those who don’t know which of their platforms are the most critical. Forget about the odd ‘bandit’ story that bites you out of left field – you’ll handle these on an ad hoc basis anyway!
Number 6 – Your KPIs must be strictly limited in number. Five are better than fifty. Don’t make them too abstract or large in concept. Go with the flow. Count what matters and remember that “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted” (Albert Einstein). Mighty Oaks from tiny acorns grow. Don’t build vast, massive, monolithic constructs which bear little relation to reality!
Number 7 – Make sure you use intelligent KPIs which measure what you need and not what others sell. At the last count there were well over 250 suppliers of social media tracking systems, most of which boast proprietary metrics for what’s good and what’s bad. The first mistake is to place social media into a separate silo as if it is something to be measured in itself. Of course, social networking has transformed the role of communicators, particularly in B2C. But the crucial discipline is to assess your communications effectiveness across all platforms, whether mainstream or digital, in a common language. The messages you want to reach your audiences are the same whichever medium is used. Social networking changes radically the ‘how?’ we reach our audiences, perhaps even the shape of the message, but it doesn’t change the ‘why?’ and ‘with what purpose?’…and that’s what your KPIs should be doing for you!