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A tactical guide to PR measurement and evaluation

This tactical guide offers a straightforward way to adopt PR measurement and evaluation. It contains ‘how to’ advice, a useful flowchart, and a handy list of terms.

The intention is to help practitioners measure and evaluate tactical PR work – such as events, writing, and media relations – as distinct tasks. These may be routine aspects of a job role, part of a larger project, or ad-hoc requests from colleagues or clients.

Heather Yaxley

Most guidance builds a case around objectives, targets, KPIs and metrics – emphasising the importance of outputs, outtakes, outcomes, and impact. It advocates aligning PR campaigns or programmes of activities with organisational purpose, goals, strategies, culture, and message strategies. Such work would be researched, planned, and delivered often in an integrated fashion across a range of channels (likely incorporating paid, earned, shared, and owned media).

Rightly the ‘gold standard’ of good practice is a robust approach, requiring investment of time and budget. But this benchmark method can seem overwhelming if you’re looking for a simple way to start measuring and evaluating the value of PR work.

Adopting a measurement mindset for everyday tactical workflows is both essential and ethical. It means being responsible and accountable for how you work (process) and what you achieve (performance).

Measuring in this way emphasises ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’, with a focus on sustainable improvement. It establishes the value of tactics through evaluation of the efficacy, efficiency, effectiveness, and ethics of PR work.

Part 1. Process mapping

Visual representation of the steps involved in undertaking an activity supports process efficiency and improvement. For routine tasks, a flowchart illustrates what’s involved. It can be created with sticky notes, or drawn as a graphic on paper or using software such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Visio. This simple starting point provides a clear overview of tactical work.

For more complex activities, template process maps are available in specialist tools (such as Miro and Lucidchart). These enable process steps to be linked as a set of inputs and outputs, with a specific timeline, allocated responsibilities, and indication of intended outcomes.

A process map can be expanded to include tasks and sub-processes that precede and/or follow a PR activity. Such contributions might come from suppliers (such as videographers) or colleagues (for example, sign-off procedures). Extended maps are useful in larger projects to monitor overall progress – and measure process efficiency and effectiveness.

Process mapping methods are used formally to build Gantt charts using Excel, PowerPoint, or project management software.

Developing and sharing a process map with everyone involved in a workflow offers a broader perspective of evaluation. Other people’s insight can identify and address vulnerabilities, pinch points, elements that are redundant or missing, potential time delays, and/or overloads. This improves management of resource requirements – providing a measure of efficacy, efficiency, effectiveness, and ethical performance.

Added value comes from testing and reviewing a mapped process in practice, in order to:

  • identify learning and skill development opportunities,
  • track, streamline, and smooth the workflow,
  • implement standardisation and automation (including use of AI),
  • enhance decision-making, and
  • maintain quality and compliance standards of and across tactical activities.

Part 2. Performance improvement

The 3M flowchart (illustrated above) is designed to improve performance of tactical PR work. It covers three actions: measure, monitor, and manage.

  1. Measure: Measures are things that can be observed – and usually quantified numerically or using a scale. Alternatively a measure may provide a qualitative evaluation, for instance, ordered, rated, or categorised.

An acronym AMUSE provides a reminder that measurement should be accurate, meaningful, understandable, simple, and easy to do.

As an example, the founders of Innocent Drinks are said to have decided to make production of fruit smoothies a full-time job by asking customers at a music festival to put their empty bottle in choice of bins labelled ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Direct measures need to provide relevant metrics and/or performance indicators. Options should be tested in advance and the best chosen to capture data and gauge a level of success.

  1. Monitor: Monitoring involves collection of information routinely and systematically. Access to up-to-date measures empowers performance improvement on the basis of direct experience.

Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) are useful to guide and monitor progress in achieving a set of measurable Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

As an example, Alcohol Change UK monitors participation in Dry January in part by number of registrations via a website or mobile app. This provides live data and enables comparison between those receiving campaign support and people who attempt Dry January independently.

Continual assessment of intended outcomes tracks how well a tactical process is implemented. Early indication of unexpected opportunities or challenges allows for adaptation to give a performance boost or reduce risks of not delivering desired results.

  1. Manage: Management encompasses action planning and performance controls. It requires competence in identifying the need for change, as well as the ability to secure change. This includes delivering performance improvement by taking an evidence-informed approach.

Evidence-informed management uses various forms of knowledge about ‘what works’ and ‘what matters’ to inform decisions, improve performance, and initiate change programmes.

As an example, Evergreen PR and Tinnitus UK used statistical and narrative evidence to inform activities and educate target audiences about the value of a Tinnitus Biobank in finding cures. This is evident in citation of facts, research findings, and sources in The Sound of Science report.

Knowledge management is important in explaining and justifying why a course of action is recommended, as well as detailing processes and practices involved in executing it. A proactive approach can be adopted by any PR practitioner to gather data and information as a robust base for their evidence-informed management of tactical and/or strategic work.

Process mapping and the 3M performance improvement flowchart combine into a robust system of PR measurement and evaluation. They help you demonstrate a professional approach, establish key performance indicators, determine ‘what works’, and focus on the value of ‘what matters’.

This foundation of good practice enables tactical work to be measured and encourages discursive evaluation of its value. Competence in sustainable development of input processes and practices supports a shift to a more strategic approach using evidence to justify investment of time and budget in ‘gold standard’ methods – such as the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework.

List of Terms

Measurement and evaluation terms © Applause Consultancy

Performance management

Performance management measures and evaluates implementation of activities against milestones, key results, and end goals (intended or realised). These may be set out as aims, objectives, targets, metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Inputs

Inputs are tactical activities (and the research that informs these) within programmes of work. They may be detailed as a workflow in process maps.

Evaluation

Evaluation involves assessment of activity measures, programme outcomes, and functional management as a professional practice. It uses research, analysis, and evidence as part of a culture of sustainable improvement.

Effectiveness

Effectiveness is a measure of the ability of PR practitioners to do the right things in order to achieve the desired outcomes.

Efficiency

Efficiency is a measure of the ability of PR practitioners to operate in the right way in terms of time, resources, and quality of work.

Efficacy

Efficacy is a measure of the ability of PR practitioners to undertake required activities in respect of adequate knowledge, training, and experience.

Ethics

Ethics is a measure of the way in which PR practitioners undertake required activities in respect of principles, values, loyalties, and standards.

Reading recommendations:

  • Yaxley, H. 2021. Research, Measurement and Evaluation: Professional Practice Review. Published by CIPR

Written by Heather Yaxley, regular PRmoment columnist and managing consultant at Applause Consultancy

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