I recently invited Hilary Briggs, an experienced company director and consultant, to give us her thoughts on media measurement. She asks:
Is your message really hitting home? Ignore the data at your peril.
“Key messages don’t always hit the target group with the desired level of impact”.
Unfortunately this is far too common a problem in the world of Corporate Communications, PR and Marketing. Or as Richard Bagnall, Managing Director of Metrica, the UK’s largest PR measurement consultancy bluntly put it: “Too many PR professionals take a blunderbuss approach – firing out press releases to lists of contacts on a media type approach rather than investing the time to develop a target audience approach.”
It got me thinking… as a Management Consultant, with an Engineering background, I have a passion for solving problems. In particular, I like to collect data, analyse it and come up with ways to fix whatever the issue is. So I asked myself; “could data analysis help communications professionals hone their key messages and ensure they hit the right people with the real impact?”
I believe it can. And a good example of this is Darren LaCroix, winner of the 2001 Toastmasters International Speech contest. In order to become a World Champion public speaker he took advice from other Champions. One tip he was given was “Let no one out prepare you.” So, amongst other things, he presented his speech to 22 different audiences, and videotaped almost seven hours of his practice speeches to prepare for his seven-minute winning speech. One of the key things he was looking for was how well he was connecting with his audience.
So the tough question is; how much effort do you put into testing and refining your messages before launching them in a crucial presentation or article? How well defined are your objectives? How will you measure success?
If success comes from doing appropriate research up front, what could be learnt from the Market Research sector itself? Recognising how using a systematic approach can improve the consistency of results, the industry has put in a lot of work over the last 15 years with bodies such as the Market Research Standards Board and British Standards Institute to develop methods to ensure this happens and that quality levels are raised as well. In a nut shell, market research is about finding out what a particular target group are thinking or doing. Hence I would argue that it would be worth considering some of their approaches in the PR and Corporate Communications field.
It’s fine for them you say, they have much bigger budgets. Maybe – if the projects that are requiring the research represent major investments by the clients. But what tools might there be though to test messages in a cost effective way? For instance, on-line methods are fast, cheap, and effective – as long as they will reach the particular target audience you’re after. The key is to ensure you are clear about what you want to achieve, what success looks like, and then develop appropriate Key Performance Indicators. As Richard Bagnall told me, “many of the measures that people use can be meaningless – the best practitioners measure what matters”. For instance, percentage of the target audience reached (this requires a tight definition of who they are) and what actions they have taken as a result of the communication – e.g. did target investors actually invest?
Still unconvinced? Then turn the question around and consider the cost of failure in the Corporate Communications arena. The last 12 months has seen massive swings in the share prices of the likes of BP and major Banks. Extreme cases you argue – but what if the impact was just 0.1% of share price? For the average FTSE100 company, even that would be worth over £10m! And for smaller companies that have floated only recently, the success or failure of regular corporate communications can mean the difference between the company establishing itself with analysts and investors – or not…
Thorough analysis of each communication activity can yield useful insights to allow refinement and improvement for the next one. For instance, companies like Metrica can help to identify how much of the target audience was reached, as well as who was not reached – which can then be further studied to improve the effectiveness of future campaigns. Adopting this kind of approach consistently will lead to more impact with less waste – handy when budgets are under pressure.
There are signs that more and more companies are starting to adopt this kind of approach, evidenced by the number of companies working in the measurement space. They have their own trade body, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC), established in 1996, which has set out to define and develop the whole industry of media measurement.
Audiences in every field are becoming more sophisticated. And the attention spans are ever shorter. “Right first time” communications is hard to guarantee, however you may only get one chance, so it’s worth doing everything you can to make it count. In my experience you’ll reap huge dividends if you invest the time and resources to test approaches in advance, have clear KPI success measures and to set up a feedback loop for ongoing improvements in the methods.
As Darren LaCroix also learnt, the thing that marks out true professionals is that they think differently. He gave me the example of what another World Champion public speaker did after winning his title, “The minute Craig Valentine stepped off his plane, he went and bought a book on public speaking!”
Hilary Briggs is Managing Director of R2P (Route to Profit) Ltd and Chairman of the Academy of Chief Executives in London. Hilary is passionate about helping businesses grow.
Hilary has been Logistics Director for Rover Group Large Cars; European Product Marketing Director for Dishwashing, Whirlpool Corporation and Managing Director of Laird Group plc’s German-based Car Body Sealing Division, with a turnover of £200m and over 4,000 employees worldwide.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.hilarybriggs.co.uk
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