Prove the value of communication: Strategies, ROI measurement, and performance evaluation

One of the most difficult things we face as communicators is how to prove the value of our work. The value of much that we do is subjective; it is intangible and not measurable – or at least not easily measurable. However, experience shows that communication is more measurable than we may realize. Here’s how to prove the value of your communication.

Plan ahead to calculate the base level as you prove the value of your communication

A vital action for measuring the value of communication is to plan ahead to measure the results of comms activities. All too often, comms pros merely jump in and measure inputs or outputs rather than outcomes (results), which are much more important.

For instance, most PR campaigns measure media coverage – the extent, the tone and the reach. However, this is somewhat pointless because actions like churning out media releases or gaining publicity don’t necessarily mean the target audience will respond favorably. We are merely measuring inputs (distributing information to the news media) or outputs (the ensuing publicity). All this activity only measures whether journalists like what we say; it gives us no direct idea of any change of behavior by our end audience, who are our target. We have to infer this and bluster to our senior managers or client.

Same with social media. Big numbers of ‘likes’ and lots of visitors are rather meaningless in themselves.

On the other hand, some thought in the planning stage can make the calculation of value much easier. Basically we should look at measuring how much communication has changed the tangible behavior of our target audience such as customers, investors or employees – and then compare the results against the costs. This helps you prove the value of your communication.

Check the existing financial value over time of what you want to change

Start by checking the position at the start of the campaign. This is important, but unfortunately many people fail to do this. We should check the total financial value over a given period of the factor we are trying to change, for instance the dollar value of sales of the product or service in question, the productivity of relevant employees, the current share price or cost of accidents, etc.

Then we start the communication activity while keeping as many other variables stable – at the position they were at the start of the campaign. For example, measurement of publicity activities is destroyed if advertising takes place at the same time. It then becomes too difficult to separate and measure the impact of our PR activity.

Communicate and then measure change in financial results

When you finish communicating, measure the total financial value of new sales, increase in share price, improved activity, reduced accidents, etc, that have resulted from your work.

Decide how much of that improvement you can justify to senior management. For example, to be conservative you might decide that you can attribute a minimum of 75% of the improvement directly to the communication efforts.

Then divide the dollar value of the improvement by the cost of communication for the period of time in question. You can impute PR staff time (and therefore salary costs) plus other costs such as equipment, materials, and external services.

The result is an approximation of your ROI. Again, it enables you to prove the value of your communication.

Sample case shows how to prove the value of your communication

ROI of publicity in generating revenue

The brief: major new product ready for launch.

Activity: Only PR should be used to launch the item. Media release distributed to promote new product, plus promotion in company website and Facebook, Instagram page etc show a special toll-free number set up for the launch (this won’t be used in most media coverage, but is still useful). Switchboard operators can be instructed to record every enquiry for the new product. Ads and direct mail etc can be used, say, a week later for product launch, but use different phone numbers, web page etc.

Outcome: Number of phone calls to toll-free number can be measured; switchboard operators record calls for product before ad campaign starts.

You can calculate ROI along similar lines to this:

1000 – Number of calls in week of PR effort before ads start
20% – The proportion of calls that become sales
800 – Estimated number of sales from PR in first week
x $200 – Annual profit per sale of each item of product
$160,000 – Annual profit from the week of publicity
$10,000 – Salary of PR person for, say, 1 month, + cost of distributing release etc

ROI = 1600%

(Notice the very conservative amount of time provided for the PR person’s role. The actual cost would have been much less.)

A hefty return, indeed!

Survey end users on changes caused by communication

Other similar situations can be calculated by using a little thought, especially in surveying the end audience on the extent to which they acted in response to the PR activity:

  • Survey financial analysts to ask what impact a conference call organized by PR had on their recommendations to buy, hold or sell the shares of the company. You might even have access to the newsletters of stock brokers or financial analysts so you can see at firsthand what their investment recommendations are to clients.
  • Survey employees to ask what extent the intranet (run by PR) has saved time, reduced errors and improved the accuracy of responses to your organization’s customer queries.
  • Ask in a customer magazine or in the organizational blog/website/Facebook/Instagram entry which of several services or products readers bought after first finding out about the item in that communication piece.
  • Ask employees in an internal survey how much of a factor the information provided in employee communication helped them to accomplish a particular sales goal, and so on.

How to measure your PR team’s performance

How effectively is your PR/communication department performing? And how well are you dealing with your internal stakeholders? It’s one thing to measure what you are doing for others, but it’s another thing to measure your own performance as a PR/comms team. The important thing is to identify only the matters for which the communication team has sole responsibility. Measure your team’s performance on a regular basis, probably once or twice a year. This article offers 10 helpful insights into how to measure your PR team’s performance.

A systematic way to prove the value of your communication

Communicators must advance beyond input and output-focused metrics and set objectives that relate to organizational performance, ie outtakes and outcomes/results. The International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) has developed a free Integrated Evaluation Framework showing how to do this. The framework helps communicators to plan well, and enables you to use meaningful measurement. It shows how to prove the value of communication in a meaningful and practical way.

Image: The AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework.

The interactive element of the Integrated Evaluation Framework guides you through the process – to align objectives, establish benchmarks, create a plan, set targets and then measure the outputs, out-takes, outcomes and impact of your work. The framework is both a planning tool and an evaluation tool. Work through it for planning a campaign with your team and use it to define a desired outcome for each step of the process. Establish your benchmarks, set and record your KPIs and your targets, and then at a later stage revisit with results to make sure that you are measuring what matters.

As you work through the interactive version of the framework, it provides additional information and suggests potential approaches and metrics that might be worth considering. Also, measurement terms are explained in the AMEC Taxonomy section, as in the image below, which gives you a flavor of the content.


Image: AMEC Taxonomy of Evaluation

A wide range of models of PR and communication evaluation use many terms including inputs, outputs, outtakes, outflows, outgrowths, effects, results, and impact. Phew! An even wider range of metrics and methods for evaluation are proposed for each stage. All this can be confusing for communicators. Therefore, AMEC’s website contains a Taxonomy of Evaluation page relating to strategic communication, as shown in the above image. A taxonomy is a map of a field that classifies or categorizes concepts and terms – in short, to show where things go and where they fit in relation to each other. This taxonomy provides information on:

  1. The major stages of communication (such as inputs, outputs, etc.)
  2. The key steps involved in each stage (such as distribution of information, reception by audiences, etc.)
  3. Examples of  metrics and milestones that can be generated or identified as part of evaluation at each stage
  4. The most commonly used methods for generating these metrics and milestones.

In summary, AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework provides a consistent and credible approach that works for organizations of all sizes, any desired objective, and with any size of budget. Today, organizations from the world’s largest multinationals to the smallest non-profits are using the framework to plan and measure their communication effectiveness. Anyone can use it, it is free and non-proprietary, allowing any organization, ranging from a university, in-house department, PR agency or measurement and monitoring firm to benefit from its approach.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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