This article originally appeared in the November 23, 2015 issue of PR News.

At this time of year, many companies are evaluating the success of programs and campaigns they conducted in 2015 and setting goals and making plans for the year ahead.

This also is one of the key times when PR professionals are at their most creative. They spend time developing strategies, compelling themes, strong messages and cutting-edge tactics for the year ahead, or finding resourceful ways to use their 2015 budget so they won’t lose it.

In both cases, media analysis has a unique role to play and is well worth your consideration as an important tool to substantiate the influence PR had on the business.

Whether to analyze performance success in 2015 or set a benchmark for 2016, measurement can provide a strategic roadmap for communicating with the public.

In other words, measurement can empower your PR team with informed, data-based recommendations to drive creative strategies and outcomes in the coming year.

Evaluating 2015 and Planning for 2016

Are you one of the many PR professionals seeking ways to spend the rest of your 2015 PR budget in a significant way? Look no further. Measuring your presence in traditional, social and digital media will provide validation for investment. Measurement can help you understand which of your campaigns and programs worked this year and show you why they worked.

For example, measurement can:

  1. Analyze the media perception and your audiences’ reaction to your messages, your thought leadership efforts and your executives’ positioning.
  2. Determine which strategies and tactics develop a connection with your target audiences, and why.
  3. Gather competitive intelligence to spark ideas.

Keeping those examples in mind, here are some questions to use in crafting a meaningful 2015 analysis and guiding your strategic 2016 planning process.

  • What are your business and communications goals for the new year?
  • What outcomes do you hope to achieve?
  • What does success look like?
  • What drives media coverage?
  • What trends can be identified?
  • Is your company perceived in the media as a thought leader?
  • What media channels do your target audiences use most frequently? Are your executives visible in these channels? Do you need to shift your outreach plans to where your audiences can be reached? To find out, should you conduct an audience analysis?
  • Do your messages resonate or do you need to further develop your positioning?
  • Do your messages connect to the company’s goals?
  • What compelling topics and themes are of interest to your customers, stakeholders and other audiences?
  • Who are the influencers and advocates on the topics most relevant to your company?
  • What activities work for your competitors? Are they taking advantage of any opportunities that you might have missed?
  • What metrics will help you evaluate success next year?

Those metrics should be identified while developing your 2016 strategy, so you can more easily evaluate your plan’s impact and success throughout the year.

It seems an axiom to say that metrics should always connect to your goals, yet too often this critical point becomes obscured. Perhaps your goal is enhanced brand awareness, brand reputation or brand preference; maybe your goal is to strengthen customer loyalty, improve purchase interest or raise executive visibility and establish thought leadership; or perhaps you are most interested in increasing customer and stakeholder engagement.

Each of these goals requires different metrics, which are the backbone of a successful measurement program and therefore, of a 2016 PR plan.

The best tools to report on those metrics depend on the media channels where you place key messages to your target audiences. For example, if you mainly pitch traditional print journalists, you might turn to Cision or Factiva for measurement. For broadcast coverage, Critical Mention, TVEyes and IQ Media are some of the options. And there are a host of social and digital media tools for your consideration.

Showcasing Success

Finding ways to demonstrate your success is critical to every communications plan. Measurement can help you get there by:

  • Validating your PR efforts to senior leadership.
  • Connecting your PR activities to outcomes.
  • Determining which media channels your target audience uses most frequently.
  • Identifying influencers leading the conversation on topics that are important to you.
  • Pinpointing trends in consumer opinions.
  • Recommending strategic adjustments to a communications plan or an ongoing campaign.
  • Suggesting ideas to refine your messages.
  • Driving thought leadership.
  • Powering your content creation.
  • Inspiring compelling and creative new strategies and tactics.

In summary, putting an analytical eye on media coverage and conversations that occurred this year can provide beneficial information for executive decision-making next year. If done properly, an in-depth measurement analysis provides sophisticated, strategic and relevant insights to shape and drive future strategy.

Another maxim that bears repeating: Measurement should not be an afterthought, slapped on at the end of a popular campaign. Measurement is a strategic discipline for the PR industry and critical to every communications program.

November is the perfect time of year to embrace the value of measurement at your company.

Margot Savell, SVP, Head of Global Measurement, Research+Data Insights. Margot also serves as the North America Co-Chair of the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication

This piece is a follow-up to an initial piece entitled Is Public Opinion Polling Data Obsolete?

“Thirty years ago, stockbrokers used to buy stock strictly by feel. Let’s put it this way: Anyone in the game with a 401(k) has a choice. They can choose a fund manager who manages their retirement by gut instinct, or one who chooses by research and analysis. I know which way I’d choose.” – Billy Beane via Howard Bryant, ESPN

Public affairs executives and political strategists could make far better use of data than we currently do. We’ve got more behavioral and public opinion data at our fingertips than ever before but still base our counsel on personal experience and anecdote. What gives? Why haven’t we adopted a Billy Beane approach?

As once was the case in baseball, the public affairs industry is dominated by old-school consultants who base their counsel on gut instinct or trade on relationships. A recommendation that client engagements should be built on a foundation of data is often met with blank stares. “What could a poll tell us that we don’t already know about a client’s situation?” But without evidence, how do you know your advice is sound?

Mary Meeker points out what might be an explanation for this outdated approach in the Internet Trends 2015 slide below. The government, regulatory and policy sectors have resisted the impact of the Internet — and innovation — more than any other sector of the U.S. economy or society. The old approach to public affairs persists, but we think it’s ripe for disruption.

Other industries have been more willing to embrace change — especially those dealing with consumers. A company called ZestFinance, which provides low-cost credit to Americans who do not qualify for standard loans, uses big data to take into account a far wider range of variables than do traditional underwriters. Netflix uses viewer activity data to predict the movies and TV shows that will interest you. And hospital networks are starting to look at consumer data to predict patients’ health habits and the most efficient means of modifying behavior.

When it comes to politics, the Obama campaign famously used similar predictive statistical techniques to target persuadable voters who were likely to vote, but the use of data in public affairs is still not widespread. Here are a few ways in which we struggle to modernize our industry.

  1. Over-reliance on anecdote. We’ve seen political consultants dismiss a data-informed campaign strategy in favor of an anecdotal insight drawn from a previous election. Never mind the facts that the candidate is different, the political climate has changed and there is a new set of issues to address.
  2. The impact of snake oil. In many cases, these same consultants quickly build businesses in the aftermath of an election to capitalize on their campaign experience and relationships with political appointees. These snake oil firms offer limited value, are built on a weak foundation and diminish the industry.
  3. Strategically useless data. Every advertising, political or communications professional uses a dashboard that shows how its organization or campaign is performing online. 5,000 click-throughs. 250 retweets. 5 million impressions. But what does this mean? Consultants and agencies confusingly refer to the delivery of this information as “analytics,” though no meaningful analysis is involved. If metrics aren’t tied to strategic goals and you aren’t asking the right research questions, the data doesn’t actually tell you anything. Data should inform your understanding of the target audience. What causes people to click through to an article or retweet a comment? What behavioral data will predict how a campaign performs on social media platforms? That’s the information public affairs professionals should be using to inform strategic recommendations.
  4. Skills gap. Our ranks are full of campaign managers, grassroots organizers and journalists, but too few executives are trained in quantitative analysis. Our point here is not that the industry should be led by data scientists, but public affairs professionals who fear math and statistics can’t interpret or make recommendations based on evidence and data.

Needless to say we are part of this industry. We share responsibility for its state and are keen to lead a disruptive upgrade. What does Moneyball public affairs look like? More on that soon.

Andrew Sullivan, H+K Strategies and Amber Ott, Research+Data Insights