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Measuring comms: an incomplete story?

8 April 2014

Ahead of my session at CharityComms’ ‘Stats that Matter’ workshop I'd like to discuss whether we’re capturing and evaluating the right metrics for communicators to demonstrate their effectiveness.

As comms practitioners, we're usually great at self-evaluation, focussing on the messages we craft, the delivery mechanisms we choose and on our audiences – how often, how much, and how consistently they engage with our campaigns. With so much of our work being visible, trackable and measurable, it’s almost too tempting to present swathes of data that reinforce the value of what we do. 

But there’s one aspect regularly overlooked in comms reviews, and as a result, in future comms plans too: eventual outcomes. We need to link our data to real change and show – directly – if and how our communications influence change. 

What difference did you make?

I once worked on a campaign that, according to our comms reviews, seemed to be doing brilliantly. We had strong, emotive messaging and imagery, a nice direct call-to-action and a ready, engaged audience. We launched an online petition at the same time as issuing a media briefing, and within hours, we had thousands of signatures, forwards and shares; numerous clippings in hugely influential third party media, online, print and broadcast; and more audience engagement than our social media platforms had seen before. If we were to stop there and review the comms campaign, it had been an unqualified success. But actually the campaign itself had failed, the target unmoved by all this attention.

The story did go on to end well, but not before proving the point that a single newspaper clipping in a small, provincial paper was more effective at influencing the relevant stakeholders – and the eventual outcome – than the ones yielding the impressive metrics.

Meaning, beyond metrics

A meaningful comms review highlights the impact of our communications work, not the success of the work itself. Reporting your comms impact in terms of eventual, not intermediate, outcomes means you start to win more influence early in the campaign strategy process.

One of my favourite metaphors for this is the bedtime story: you can choose a great story with all the right characters, you can proceed to tell the story really well, using voices and gestures and great dramatic flair…but did it send the kids to sleep, leave them hopping on the bed screaming for more, or crying for a parent in the middle of the night? The answer to that question will determine your choices for next time!

Namrata Chowdhary

international communications adviser, Cause Impact

Namrata is a communications consultant who spent 15 years working with international campaigning organisations before setting up a small independent agency, Cause Impact, committed to making change through communications.