Marketing, Nonprofits

How to measure communications plan success

Many times when we talk about communications plans and campaigns, we focus on the tactics. Which makes sense – there are the things we can see. The clever social media post, the direct mail piece, the slick website. But the true way to evaluate a communications plan or marketing campaign is through measurement.

My favorite way to illustrate the different types of measures and how they work comes from the book Effective Public Relations, Ninth Edition. This is the book I used to study for my Accreditation in Public Relations, and it’s still on my shelf, dog-eared and bursting with post-it notes. I have adapted their graphic into my own, which you can see here:

Evaluation Levels

Before you get overwhelmed, don’t worry – you don’t have to use all of these. This is simply a way to envision what you’re doing, why it matters, and how you can measure it. I find it easiest to divide measures into two groups: leading and lagging indicators.

  • Leading indicators are things you can easily measure before and during a campaign. On the diagram, those are planning and implementation measures.
  • Lagging indicators usually happen after a campaign, and are a little more challenging, but can tell you a lot. On the diagram, those are impact measures.

Here are some quick and easy examples of leading and lagging measures, using the measures from the diagram above.

Leading Indicators

Quality of research and background information Yes/No: Before you started, did you research the topic you’re communicating about and the audience you’re communicating to? Did you review what’s been done before? 
Quality of campaign design Yes/No: Does it look appealing?
Appropriateness of message and content
-or- Quality of message and presentation
Yes/No: Will this message and design appeal to your audience?
Writing Quality: Use the Flesch–Kincaid readability test, which is built into Microsoft Office. For most audiences, shoot for around an eighth grade level.
# of messages sent/received Email: How many people on your list?
Direct mail: How many households?
Media Relations: How many received your press release?
# of people who receive messages Email: Open rate (25% is a good target)
Media Relations: What is the circulation of the newspaper or website that picked up your press release?
# of people acting on messages Email: Click rate (2% is a good target)
In person: Did they come to your event?Conversion: Did they buy your product or service? Did they become a customer?

Lagging Indicators

For most lagging indicators, I recommend a survey. You can create a survey using a free SurveyMonkey account, or hire a firm if you want a more representative sample. Either way, feedback is always good, and can be used a research for your next campaign. It’s also very helpful to run the same survey with the same exact questions on a recurring basis, so you can see if your effectiveness is increasing. This gives you another type of measure: a trend line. (See my previous article for more on this type of measure.)

# who learn content Survey Question: “Please rate your awareness of product XYZ, with 1 meaning ‘no awareness’ and 5 meaning ‘high awareness.'”
# who changed opinions
-or- # who changed attitudes
Survey Question: “Please indicate your level of satisfaction with product XYZ on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).”
# who behaved as desired In person: Did they come to your event?Conversion: Did they buy your product?
# who repeat behavior In person: Did they come back after the first visit?
Retention: Are they a repeat customer?
Survey Question: “How likely are you to buy product XYZ again, with 1 meaning ‘not likely’ and 5 meaning ‘very likely?'”
Social or cultural change All campaigns at some level want to create social or cultural change, but this is hard to measure and will vary depending on your industry.

Ex: you sell smart phones.
Survey Question: “Please rate your agreement with this statement from 1 (disagree) to 5 (agree): ‘I can’t imagine life without my smartphone.'”

Ex: you run a nonprofit food bank.
Measure: The number of people living in hunger decreased by 5% over the past two years.

While it’s important to understand all of this, you don’t have to use all of these measures in every communications plan or campaign. Pick two to three reliable leading indicators, and try to identify one lagging indicator. You can always add measures as you go on.

Good luck, and happy measuring!

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