I have long envied my marketing colleagues over the years, who traditionally had larger budgets to conduct research, collect data, hold focus groups, and access metrics on almost everything to prove the benefits of their marketing efforts. Further, marketers are trained to understand those metrics and to use them appropriately.Unfortunately, public relations professionals are lagging behind in understanding the real contribution of public relations and using metrics effectively. Given the ever-changing media environment, PR measurement can no longer be optional.
Non-profit organizations especially need to embrace measurement and incorporate it into their planning and strategy for effective communications. In healthcare, for example, we don’t always know when our services are needed. As the media changes, understanding how to get your message out successfully, you need to be flexible, innovate, and get comfortable with change. Measuring outcomes will be key to ensure we are on the right path.
The “fake news” phenomenon has also turned our world upside down. A report by Reuters Digital News (2017) found that “consumers continue to have a voracious appetite for news despite changing tastes and technologies and attacks on the media.” Social media has also changed the way people consume news, the way journalists work, and therefore, the way we must do our jobs.
From Cleveland Clinic’s national awareness tracking surveys, we know that “news coverage” is the driving source of national awareness on our institution. This is important to us, and has given us credibility with our top executive leadership. So, there is a sense that we are necessary to the organization, not just “nice to have.” However, although PR is viewed as valuable at Cleveland Clinic, having metrics behind our work provides the evidence to earn budget support as well.
Public relations is critical for its role in crisis and issue management, to support major fundraising efforts, drive volunteerism for our most important events, and educate the public about our mission of excellence in clinical care, research and medical education. We even learned that PR is beginning to play a key role in the recruitment of top talent to the organization. Backing this up with real data is essential for non-profits.
Five years ago, we began our measurement journey, and hired Ketchum Public Relations in New York. PR measurement was a key focus and I was introduced to (AMEC), The International Association of Measurement and Evaluation of Communications www.amecorg.com. They have a vast amount of information and experts in the field across industries that have been instrumental for PR professionals.
AMEC’s non-profit group, of which I am a part, was formed in 2013, to create a forum for networking among communication leaders working for non-profits that are focused on measurement.
Last year, the Non-Profit Group of AMEC sponsored a study in collaboration with Braun Research and Ketchum Global Research & Analytics to look at the non-profits barriers to measurement. We found that 91 percent of respondents know that measurement is important, but feel they don’t have the expertise or time to focus on it.
This past summer a second study was conducted with the goal of assessing the relevance of communications research/measurement on non-profits and explore how non-profits are dealing with disruptive changes in the industry.
The findings were significantly different from last year as we learned that three-quarters of respondents feel that measurement and evaluation of their communications program is non-negotiable and more important today than five years ago. The vast majority of executives believe measurement of communications is essential and will allocate funds to do so. However, there is still room for improvement.
There is still inconsistency in how non-profits measure their efforts. Consistent standards are the best answer for that. The Barcelona Principles are strong and proven guidelines for the PR industry. In addition, AMEC’s integrated measurement framework has been developed to help PR professionals get started (https://amecorg.com/amecframework/).
Although still a long-term journey, Cleveland Clinic’s measurement efforts have been able to show a very strong correlation between patient volume (revenue) and news coverage on our health system. It is hard work, but incredibly rewarding and important to know that what we do really does matter and why.
Eileen Sheil is the executive director of Corporate Communication at Cleveland Clinic. She was inducted into the PR News Measurement Hall of Fame in 2016. She also is a member of the International Association of the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC).