Comms ROI? It’s time to rethink how we approach data

I’m currently working on a really interesting project; and part of the spec is about reviewing the effectiveness of internal communications… so it got me thinking about measurement.

In the last PRCA/PR Week PR Census, 65 per cent of the PR profession said they did not believe there were adequate tools in place to measure ROI. From my perspective, if we’re looking at the complete set of tools most organisations use to measure internal and external communications, then I disagree. I think it’s not about the tools we are using, it is about how we are using the data. I believe in a more sophisticated, integrated approach.

So many professionals talk about measuring employee engagement, the number of likes or comments on intranet articles, Yammer/Twitter engagement, press coverage, turnover stats, reach… Does your CEO really want to know about what 2% of the organisation are talking about on Yammer? Is that the type of data and insight that will keep your CEO awake at night? My thoughts are that they are more likely to be having nightmares about whether customer satisfaction and reputation decline will threaten market value.

We need to stop talking like communication professionals and start thinking and acting like business-savvy leaders.

So where to begin? Start with your communication objectives. Before you even consider data metrics, define what it is you are actually trying to achieve. This should steer you in the right direction of what you should be measuring. Most communication professionals already tie in their strategies and campaigns with the overall business drivers. But what many don’t yet do is tie in their communication measurement with the overall business goals. Once you know your objectives, you need to create a communications scorecard with data that reflects the wider business metrics.

But it is not simply about the data you decide to source, it is about how you interpret that data. Add ‘analyst’ to your bag of tricks too. Correlate, compare and benchmark the data. Identify the trends.

Where you can deliver real value is when you can prove trends over time – and establish how your communications activity – internal, external or both – is having an impact on the overall value of the business. For example, you could compare whether there are certain positive, negative or neutral story drivers that are dominating your press coverage, track these trends and compare this with your PR influence. Take this one step further and see how these compare to your brand index, your reputation index and finally, analyse whether these trends are together influencing share price. Or measure how effectively your values are lived by your employees; how does that reflect customer experience; does that impact customer satisfaction rates, sales, share price? It’s about making the links. Some communication professionals I know already do this brilliantly – and these are the ones that are on the executive committee. But not enough.

So for the 35 per cent of you who do think you have the right tools in place to measure ROI, I agree. But to demonstrate real return on investment requires time, thoughtfulness and some additional brainpower.

If you can prove that your communications activity is moving the needle on public opinion, customer advocacy and market value, then you will be in a much stronger position to influence stakeholders, boost credibility and move a seat closer to the top of the business. Why? Because you are demonstrating where you are adding real business value.

Change communications specialist working with some of the world's best brands to build them from the inside out. Passionate about people, data and results. CIPR International committee member.

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