Linking Objectives to Outcomes

This is the third instalment in a series on media relations measurement.

In this second part of my conversation with Wilma Mathews, ABC, I asked her where we needed to be as an industry when it comes to the strategic use of media relations.

How do we develop objectives for a media relations campaign? How do we evaluate whether we’ve achieved those objectives? In a perfect world, how should people approach those challenges?

Her advice was simple on the surface, but represents the complexity of media relations specifically, and organizational communication in general.

“People need to approach media relations by understanding what it is that your client needs to get done,” she says. “Too often, the client’s needs are misinterpreted to what we can do from a media standpoint, whether it has anything to actually do with solving the problem or not.”

She says that one of the challenges that many practitioners have with measurement is that they may start with a great objective — such as increasing the number of people who participate in a weekend run for cancer research from 10,000 to 12,000 — but their evaluation focuses only on the media clippings they generate. They forget to go back and count the number of people who actually participated in the run.

This goes back to her belief that there is a clear distinction between evaluation and measurement in media relations. Counting the clippings is a form of evaluation around the process. Determining how many people participated in the run is a measurement of outcomes, and therefore success.

“You cannot claim success if you are not measuring the right thing,” she says. “And this slides over into the issue of ethics.”

Wilma believes that it is incredibly unethical to tell a client that a campaign was successful because it generated a million impressions when the objective was to get more people to participate in the food drive, vote for a candidate, or other potential outcome.

There are those who may try counter her argument by saying that it was the client who wanted those media relations results — such as being a guest on certain television programs or being above the fold on the front page of the business section. Therefore, according to codes of ethics governing public relations (whether PRSA, IABC, CPRS or CIPR), the media relations practitioner has done his or her job.

“If that media plan is solely about getting the boss above the fold on the front page of the business section and nothing else, then that’s ok,” she replies. “The objectives may be that (the client) is looking for media support for the product launch, and (the media relations practitioner) will write an objective that says they want to generate 1.5 million impressions.

"You can get impressions. That’s the easy part. But those impressions may have no correlation to a bottom line.”

And without bottom line measurement, the job is less than half done.