Weighing up evaluation in PR

5th August 2018

By Daisy Barton

Evaluation is one of the trickier and – dare we say it – neglected aspects of our work. We all have an instinctive feeling for what great impact looks like, but how do we actually evaluate the success of our work and convince the people we work with that what we’re doing is worthwhile (or isn’t….)? 

Ellie Dobson, Head of Science, Engineering & Innovation at leading science PR and comms agency AprilSix Proof, kicked off by outlining a familiar situation: outcomes have to be linked to the overall goals of your organisation to be meaningful, but the comms department isn’t the only one shooting for that goal. So how do you effectively demonstrate your role in helping the organization to get there?

Having started her career in the technology B2B (‘business to business’) sector, Ellie pointed out that we can learn a lot from sales and marketing techniques used in this sector. These teams are highly focused they are on getting their audiences to do something (usually a purchase) and it’s this strict focus on outcomes – and what we need to do to get there – which we can all learn from.

Drawing on this experience, Ellie has developed a model which allows organisations to plan, understand and measure how their campaigns have contributed to the impact their organisations need:

© Ellie Dobson, AprilSix Proof

Each of the components of this model can be evaluated, allowing us to build up a detailed picture of where our campaigns and communications activities might be working, and where they can be improved. The model can also act as checklist, allowing us to ensure that we’re focusing on the right actions for each stage – aiming for the right goals, for instance, or providing enough opportunities to engage. As somebody who’s struggled to deal with the complexity of campaign planning and evaluation among the day-to-day pressures of my job, I love how Ellie’s model provides a template for drawing out and refining the key evaluation and design questions for almost any PR or comms activity – from a concerted global awareness campaign, to a vague request to “get more people visiting the website”.

I also noticed several heads nodding when Ellie mentioned that this model can be a great way to gently steer the people we work with away from “vanity metrics” – when a senior person in your organisation asks you to focus on getting them in The Economist because it’s what their peers read, this model provides a framework for you to guide them towards more effective PR work which actually achieves the outcomes you want.

Our second speaker was Andrew Bruce Smith from Escherman, a specialist consultancy delivering world class social media, search engine optimisation, online marketing and analytics training. 

One of the striking things about Andrew’s talk is the healthy dose of reality he injects into digital and social media analytics. Everyone by now is aware of the shortcomings of certain social media platforms’ internal analytics, and even where these are improving, Andrew points out that views, clicks and followers may not always be what they seem.  At the same time, digital communications allow us to gather an almost dizzying array of data on our communications work, so how do we figure out where to start?

Fortunately, there are a range of incredible free, freemium and low-cost tools out there to help navigate this sea of data. Similarweb provides a great way to benchmark your website against similar organisations, to understand where traffic is coming from and which pages are popular. Answer the Client is a free tool which links Google Analytics data to PR coverage, and of course Google Analytics itself offers a wealth of information to track and understand the impact of your campaigns if correctly configured.

Andrew’s whistle-stop tour through some of the tools available to track online results certainly gave me food for thought into how I’ll approach media monitoring in future. While many of us may still work for organisations where traditional media coverage is still a critical part of what we do, the ubiquity of digital as a source of information means that using some of these tools to understand the effects of such coverage should be an essential part of what all of us are doing. 

Although we may not all fancy logging in to Google Analytics at 6:30am to watch how a Today Programme interview is driving traffic to our websites, this sort of impact can play a huge part in justifying our work and ensuring we’re spending time on the stuff that matters.

Ultimately, Andrew and Ellie both had the same message – ensuring you’re working towards meaningful goals for your organisation will allow you to develop (and then evaluate) the best strategies for using communications and PR to achieve those goals. This session provided us with some brilliant tools for making that happen, although one of the questions at the end rung true to me and I suspect others in the room: how do we make the time to familiarise ourselves with all the amazing tools that are out there?

If any Stempra members would be interested in getting together to spend some time getting to know some of the tools and models mentioned in this session, please let me know at dbarton@stempra.org.uk. I know I find it difficult to make the time to learn how to use new tools like this, so if anyone else feels that doing so in a group would be helpful, we can look to set up a few hands-on workshop sessions to follow up this event.

Ellie Dobson, Head of Science, Engineering & Innovation at AprilSix Proof
Andrew Bruce Smith from Escherman
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