Pop Quiz: When money gets tight, what expense do most businesses cut first? Answer: Marketing and public relations. Why? Because bottom-line-oriented business executives typically don’t view that kind of activity as an investment that produces a measurable return. And quite frankly, that’s because few people actually know how to measure and demonstrate results.
For those that care (and most of you should), I thought I’d try to break it down for you.
First, you need to figure out what you want to measure. And before you can do that, you need to understand the different categories of measurement and how they relate to one another. These are known as outputs, outtakes and outcomes.
Outputs refer to the quantity of communication tactics implemented. In other words, how are you reaching people? Examples of outputs might include the number of brochures you distributed, the number of media impressions received in relevant news outlets, and the number of direct mail pieces delivered to target audiences.
As you can reasonably gather, outputs measure activity, not efficacy. So you can’t stop there. You have to dig a little deeper. That’s where outtakes come into play.
Outtakes tell us whether the target audience received, understood and acted on the information you gave them. That is to ask, are you actually getting through to people? Examples of outtakes might include website traffic trends as a result of an ad campaign or PR push, direct mail response rates, and audience engagement on social media platforms.
While outtakes might reveal some important behavioral responses of target audiences, they fall short of implying any broader, wholesale impact to your business or organization. That’s what outcomes are for.
Outcomes, sometimes referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs), measure the stuff that really matters to C-level execs, and they differ for each business or organization. If you’re a university or a private school, for example, enrollment would probably be an outcome measure. Why? Because without students, you don’t exist. Faculty retention might be another. Because, of course, if you can’t keep good people around, you’re going to have a heck of a time attracting good students. If you’re a bookstore, new customers would be an obvious thing to track. If you’re a nonprofit, private donations would be a top priority.
Outputs, outtakes and outcomes become progressively more meaningful to a business, but take progressively longer to realize. That’s part of the reason it’s important to incorporate each type of measurement into your marketing and public relations strategy. In addition to helping you track incremental progress, it will also help you determine whether and how each metric contributed to the other.
For example, was handing out 5,000 brochures, earning one million media impressions and posting to Facebook three times per week enough to get your target audience to act within your given time frame? Did the actions that those individuals took generate broad, long-term success for your business? You get the idea.
Of course, in order to actually measure anything, you have to develop measurable objectives at the outset of your marketing and public relations plan. But that’s a topic for another day.
The bottom line is that when you’re able to explicitly demonstrate how your marketing and public relations initiatives directly contribute to the overall success of the company, it becomes much more difficult to strike that line item when tightening the proverbial belt.