It has often been joked that effective communication is part art and part science. While it’s undeniable that skilled orators and communicators like Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela or Winston Churchill have “something special”, the scientific approach to mapping stakeholders, developing targeted messaging and measuring the impact of communications efforts is critical.
In an era where expenditure across all business disciplines is under a spotlight, it’s important to be able to quantify the return on investment for all activities. This is especially true of marketing and communications; areas where practitioners have not always been able to draw a clear and obvious link to business objectives.
We created the H+K planning process to build communications campaigns on a solid foundation involving five key steps – listening, analysis, planning, engagement, and finally, evaluation. Listening to what competitors, consumers, commentators and industry representatives are saying about a product or service must form the basis of any solid communications plan.
Listening can take place through online analytics tools trawling conversation on social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook or comments sections of news sites, or – where appropriate – through targeted focus groups or perception audits. Robust research and subsequent analysis offers a foundation for mapping out stakeholders, issues and external factors that could affect a campaign. Perhaps equally importantly, it provides a platform to stand on when questioned by senior managers or budget holders regarding campaign direction.
Planning is always streamlined when based on solid data as the research itself provides a filter to test campaign strategy against key objectives, targets, and appropriate communications channels. It’s also easier to define measures of success as goals can be set in reference to the start point. During execution, regular temperature checks throughout a campaign help ensure further insights are fed in to enable slight tweaks to increase effectiveness and respond to any changes on the fly.
An example of this was a project we executed in the lead up to the London Olympics to support a FMCG client in its outreach during the Games. Instead of commencing the planning process with preconceived audience targets and channels, we conducted with research into the triggers that would spark a purchase decision and made a surprising discovery. The research indicated that by and large, the person responsible for a purchasing decision was not actually the user of the product, but instead another family member. This one key piece of data provided the insight needed to craft messages and plan a communications strategy that tracked directly back to campaign objectives, namely an uptick in awareness and increased sales. As author Marty Rubin once said, “Every line is the perfect length if you don’t measure it”.
Post-campaign analysis is crucial to help compare the tone of conversation about a product, service or brand following a campaign to that prior to commencement. With the ever-shrinking global media pool – and the growing importance of social media – it is increasingly important to evaluate the success of PR initiatives based on more than counting clips or calculating advertising equivalency values for secured editorial placements. Accurate PR measurement should be tied to qualitative as well as quantitative metrics, to track tone, sentiment, and whether or not a brand’s messages are being seen by the right audience.
This reinforces the need for an effective baseline at the onset of a campaign involving any media or stakeholder outreach, as it enables you to loop back on the objectives identified during the initial research stage and show a shift in perception. After all, the better you are equipped to show success, the more chance you have of securing budget for the next campaign.
The writer is Matthew Overington, regional co-lead, Technology Practice, Asia, Hill+Knowlton Strategies