03.18.2013 | Jennifer Gehrt
Does it make sense to measure impact?
This was the subject of a recent article in Harvard Business Review. The article shares the stories of three organizations – Acumen Fund, Robin Hood Foundation, and Millennium Challenge Corporation – aiming to make a major impact on the lives of individuals, including reducing cases of malaria and fighting poverty.
Although these thoughtful organizations seek to assess their programs, none of them measure their impact directly. Knowing the direct results of each organization’s efforts, such as the number of cases of malaria reduced due to mosquito nets distributed in Africa, would be ideal. But this type of measurement is too costly, so these organizations stick to what they can realistically measure, such as how many mosquito nets were distributed, and then, based on research, make an educated guess about overall impact.
One section of the article sums up the author’s opinion on measurement:
Surely measuring impact matters but we need to be realistic about the constraints. It requires a level of research expertise, commitment to longitudinal study, and allocation of resources that are typically beyond the capabilities of implementing organizations. It is crucial to identify when it makes sense to measure impacts and when it might be best to stick with outputs — especially when an organization’s control over results is limited, and causality remains poorly understood.
So what lessons can PR practitioners learn from these organizations? In PR, measurement is key to long-term success and, like the above organizations, the type of measurement can vary according to client needs.
For example, client goals can include changing the perception of a company, person, product or idea. Measurement, in this case, can be a fuzzy and difficult task but there are ways to measure output, as the article mentions, and then apply what we already know (size and type of target audience, etc.) to assess the impact of our programs in a meaningful way.
At Communiqué PR, we follow four important yet simple guidelines for measuring impact of a PR program:
1) Develop tangible objectives that are indeed measurable. Don’t seek out a PR goal that isn’t measurable in the first place. If your goal is to “change perception,” you must first clarify what that means in realistic terms.
2) Develop measurements that include both quantity (i.e., number of articles) and quality (i.e., inclusion of key messages) metrics.
3) Work with clients to understand their measurement expectations and work within those guidelines.
4) Communicate often with clients so that they are educated on the process and the outcomes. No surprises are good surprises.
How do you measure the impact of your PR programs? Please let us know what you do. In addition, for more on this topic, please look at our previous posts:
- Measuring Media Relations Takes a Multifaceted Approach
- Measuring the Value of PR
- The Purpose of Measurement
- Measuring ROI in Social Media