This is David Geddes, chair of the Institute for Public Relations Commission on Measurement and Evaluation.
Today I am talking with Dr. Christopher Storck, Managing Director at Hering Schuppener where he heads the Reputation & Communication Management practice. In addition, Christopher leads the task force ‘Value Creation through Communication’ of the German Public Relations Association (Deutsche Public Relations Gesellschaft, DPRG). He is also visiting lecturer at the Institute of Communication Science at the University of Munster, fellow for corporate communications at the Quadriga University in Berlin, and a member of the steering committee of the task force “Communication Performance Management” of the International Controller Association.
Christopher, you have an interesting academic background. Where did you start, and how did you become involved in strategic communications measurement and evaluation?
Looking back, I was very lucky I got an opportunity to start a career in corporate communications. Until 1999, I was an assistant professor specializing in Eastern European nation building without any clue what business was about. I had studied history, philosophy and Slavic languages, and led the editorial team of a scientific journal. My management experience was limited to having served as chief of communications of the German-Dutch Army Corps. Nevertheless, Ralf Hering, one of the pioneers of PR in Germany, made me his personal assistant as Chairman of GCI Europe. In this capacity, I learned how to create a PR network out of agencies from all over EMEA. Afterwards, I joined the German technology PR team. One year later, I became a founding member of a new practice combining management and PR consulting.
You have a wonderful term in German – Kommnunikations-Controlling. What is Kommnunikations-Controlling?
It’s a young management discipline that has been developing in Germany since the turn of the century. The most appropriate English term might be “Communications Performance Management” (CPM). It combines three corporate functions: strategic planning, communications (internal/external), and management accounting. It goes beyond PR evaluation in two ways. Firstly, CPM concentrates on essential contributions by professional communications to achieving the strategic goals of an organization. Secondly, it encompasses every communications discipline that provides deliverables of this kind – on its own or in cooperation with other functions such as HR. Accordingly, CPM does not tolerate concepts like AVEs or brand valuation looking for shortcuts to monetary value contribution without linking communications to corporate strategy.
We think we need to track the full chain of communications impacts from the input to the business outflow, if we want to materialize the value creation of our trade. In 2009, professional associations of communicators and management accountants agreed on a model toolbox for this task: the “Levels of Impact of Communications” (we are currently preparing a brochure in English). Last year, the International Controller Association published comprehensive guidelines for how to integrate the communications department in the management accounting of corporations (an English version is on the way). Since then, we are collecting proof points and case studies from businesses as well as non-profit organizations.
In this context, how do you approach setting up a communications research, monitoring, and evaluation program?
Everything starts with corporate strategy. What does senior management want to achieve in a given planning period? In how far does this require organizational change? What are the key challenges we need to cope with? Which stakeholder groups need to cooperate with us if we want to succeed? In which ways do we need to manage their expectations towards us to make this happen? What does this ask from us in terms of communications? Do we have all the necessary skills and resources? How are we going to measure success? Finding answers to these questions and agreeing them with senior management is fundamental to the definition of metrics that are relevant and meaningful for both executives and communicators.
We often face the challenge of reporting on communications research, insights, and results in a compelling, meaningful way to senior management. How do you communicate measurement and evaluation results to senior executives?
As I said before: Everything starts with the corporate strategy. Our approach is to identify what communications MUST contribute to realize the vision and mission of the organization. Reaching an agreement between senior management and communications executives on that is the threshold communication management needs to cross to become strategic. Once this is achieved, it is relatively easy to define meaningful KPIs and steering metrics for projects as well as for bread-and-butter operations.
Do you have any practical tips for communicating PR measurement results to senior management?
Adapt to the needs of senior executives, while using your skills and experiences as professional communicators to shape their expectations.
How do you conceptualize “return on investment? How can we measure ROI in a meaningful way?
In my experience, PR professionals tend to use ROI as a buzzword they throw around to distract from the fact that their activities are not linked to organizational strategy. That’s why concepts like AVEs have been abused to fight for budgets or bonuses. I see only one way to demonstrate that the value contribution of corporate communications exceeds the investment in the function: be transparent about the full costs and agree with senior management how activities will support the corporate strategy.
Thanks for talking with us today. Please stop by for future installments of Five Minute Conversations, or read past interviews at https://instituteforpr.org/blog/.