Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Getting to the Bottom of Metrics that Matter: Part 2

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In this second of a two-part series, the effervescent Shonali Burke guides measurement pros into a productive way to move beyond AVES. See Part 1 here.

[The first article of this series] started a series on practical measurement that seems to be resonating with a LOT of people. So many thanks for the comments, emails, DMs, etc.—though I really wish you’d leave them as actual comments on the blog. 😉

Here’s one story I heard from Mark Weiner about how this whole “Die, AVEs, Die!” war cry can have unexpectedly adverse consequences:

Dude at large firm wants to measure correctly. Dude’s boss wants AVEs. Dude can’t afford to lose his job, but he also doesn’t want to be seen as a PR “outlaw.” So what does Dude do? NOT MEASURE AT ALL.

AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! This is exactly why it’s ridiculous to beat up on AVEs if we cannot offer an alternative (Kate Finley’s GP for Cision still doesn’t make the “dollar” case as AVEs do, but it has some really great ideas for you to get further along that road). [In the first article of this series] I walked you through the first four steps (IMHO) on refocusing your measurement efforts on metrics that matter. And one of the points I made was this:

You need to identify what specifically you’re going to track via your “supplementary” measurement program, so that you can actually show your boss an alternative way of looking at things, and metrics that actually make sense.

So it stands to reason that, when you’re figuring out what to track, you’re tying to business goals, right? Right. But here’s the thing. Sometimes, business goals have absolutely nothing to do with the kinds of results your boss, or boss’ boss, wants to see. Why do you think “impressions” are still around? Because they make people happy! And impressions are not all bad. It’s just that they’re pretty useless if you’re looking at them in isolation.

So, as you start to identify your goals, and what you’re going to tie to, I want you to expand your horizons a bit. Because, remember, this isn’t just about coming up with the perfect metrics for your campaign, it’s about ultimately being a change agent for your organization.

1. What floats your boss’ boat?

She may tell you it’s “ROI blah blah blah” whatever. She may say all sorts of things that sound right, and that she actually believes. But do you know how she is evaluated, come performance review time?

Do you know that, at the end of the day, the way she gets a 5-star performance review is by getting the CEO’s mug in his local neighborhood rag?

Because his arch-enemy from high school lives in the same neighborhood but now, instead of being the hunky quarterback is simply an overweight also-ran, and the CEO loves to rub his success in his neighbor’s face. You can bet that’s what she’ll keep bringing up in strategy meetings. Without giving you the back story necessarily, because she knows it does nothing for the business! But it plays a big part in how her department—and her work—is evaluated.

Useful metrics may not be the most important metrics to your boss.

So wise up and find out what does float your boss’ boat. Then make sure you’re putting some effort behind that, while also focusing on what you know is important.

2. What are the indicators of success for each business unit?

As you know, a long, long time ago (actually not all that long, but long enough!), I worked at the ASPCA. Fabulous organization, massive, like a little city. And I was scared to death. Because here I was, tasked with revamping PR for the oldest animal welfare agency this side of the Atlantic. I mean, no pressure, boo.

If you’ve worked at a large organization that has a variety of programmatic elements, you’ll know that in addition to managing the brand, you also need to manage the sub-brands that the programs have, or can often, become – they’re essentially business units that have specific goals and indicators of success.

In addition, there are usually non-programmatic business units that also work to their specific indicators of success. While overall they all contribute to the brand, they’re almost like mini-fiefdoms, functioning on their own. So their indicators of success may map, in general terms, to those of the organization overall, but you can bet that if you’re not supporting each business unit’s efforts, they’re going to be pretty unhappy. So much so, they may start doing their own PR. And you definitely don’t want that!

The way I was able to avoid just such a scenario at the A was to listen—a LOT—to the different business units. Have meetings with each one, sometimes over and over again, go to retreats, listen listen listen. It took a while, but a) we learned so much about what made them tick and how they work, and b) we built internal bridges that made a world of difference when we were developing and executing our campaigns around their work. Make sure you know the indicators of success for each business unit, and map your work to them.

3. What are the overall business key performance indicators?

I touched on this last week, and I talk a lot about it, so I won’t go too deep right now… because this is the one most of us already know we should be mapping our work to. Make sure you know how your organization drives revenue and stays profitable, and how it tracks that success. You won’t necessarily learn that off the bat, and—shocker alert!—you may find that some of the business unit goals don’t really mean that much vis-à-vis the organizational goals. Sometimes they’re just there because they make the XIP (X Important Person) very happy… because if she’s not happy, then she might pull her funding, and there goes the org sailing up the creek without a paddle. It’s not your job to judge (at least, not openly!).

It’s your job to learn and support the work, and know that ultimately, you have to help drive revenue.

The bottom line: When you start to think about metrics that matter, please keep the above in mind. You should absolutely not abandon “good” measurement. But it’s just smart to understand the lay of the land and help your colleagues and superiors get the wins that help them. Because that, at the end of the day, helps you.

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Image: Ashes Sitoula via Unsplash, CC Zero

Shonali Burke

Shonali Burke

Shonali Burke is a “social PR” strategist who, among other career highlights: Rebuilt the ASPCA’s communication function, and instituted its award-winning measurement program to boot; Was named to PRWeek’s first “top 40 Under 40” list, the first list of 25 Women That Rock Social Media, and; Founded and continues to curate the popular #measurePR hashtag and Twitter chat.
Shonali Burke
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