Measuring PR/C department performance is essential to understanding how the department is improving its contribution to organizational success and, ultimately, the creation of value for the organization. 

Yes, performance measurement is important. The difficulty comes when the CCO must decide which effectiveness, cost-effectiveness or efficiency measures to employ for each or all of the five categories of measurement:

  • a.    Communication products, communication messages and communication channels/media (communication inputs; outputs; outtakes); 
  • b.    Communication programs/campaigns (audience outcomes); 
  • c.    Communication department (process quality; practice effectiveness; efficiency/productivity; internal client satisfaction; value); 
  • d.    The organization (business & financial impact; tangibles); and 
  • e.    Society (relationships; reputation; brand; social responsibility; intangibles).

What’s even more important is the CCO’s ability to prioritize various measurement possibilities and to choose what should be measured at any given point in time, as either a one-off measurement or as an on-going one. 

My firm’s first performance measurement assignment, working closely with a CCO and her management team on prioritization and making choices, was in 1998. We employed two tools: a Logic Model; and a Results-based Management Accountability Framework (RMAF). These allowed us to think through how the PR/Communication department was tied (or hoped to be tied) to the strategic management of the organization and in particular the organization’s (and business units’) formal strategic planning process, formal strategy execution processes, emergent strategy processes and emergent strategy execution processes. In other words, we determined where the department could add value at each stage of the organization’s strategic management processes. Then, we developed a Performance Measurement Framework (PMF) for the department that described the measures we prioritized and chose – measures that would demonstrate the department’s value. 

Subsequently, over many assignments with other CCOs, I’ve continued to utilize the benefits of logic modeling and accountability frameworks. I’ve also integrated the use of value chains and Strategy-based Performance Management Scorecards
(SPMS: David Norton and Robert Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard being the best-known SPMS). 

These tools are part of an iterative process I run that helps the CCO and management team link the organization’s strategic management (vision; mission; plans; goals; strategies; previous results; accountabilities; measurements; etc.) with the PR/C department’s strategic management (mandate; accountabilities; roles; service offerings; plans; goals; strategies; previous results; etc.) and with the department’s performance management (capabilities; competencies; make or buy; resource allocations; etc.). From discussions around these linkages comes the determination of which performance measures to employ, and from there a doable performance measurement framework and plan of action. 

Results from the European Communication Monitor studies over many years suggest that the number one issue for the typical communication department management team is “linking business strategy and communication” (ECM, 2015, p.71). Simply, as these studies have found, if the CCO can’t show how the department’s work is linked to organizational strategic management choices – beyond banalities – then any measurement the department performs will tend to stick to low level measures, such as output and outtake measures like media monitoring, web site usage, event attendance or social media tracking. 

The ‘better practice’ among CCOs is to not treat measurement as a stand-alone unit, or as an add-on to the end of a communication strategy or process. Measurement is folded in to the department’s strategic management plan. That is, the CCO must ensure the department has:

  • A visualization of how the department is linked to organizational strategic management through such tools as a logic model or value chain;
  • A conceptualization of where and how the department adds value through such tools as accountability framework or strategic management framework;
  • A determination of how the department will actually show value and how through such tools as a performance measurement framework; and
  • A description of what will be measured, how and when it will be measured through such tools as a yearly measurement plan.

Recent research points to the need to consider measures from all five categories, including cost-effectiveness and efficiency measures in addition to effectiveness and quality measures. Evidence suggests that C-suite members value:

  • A productive PR/C department listening capability (intelligence aggregation; insights development; strategic advice given);
  • A broad department corporate, business and strategic communication planning capability (internal client relationships; formative research for client goal setting; business planning assistance; business strategy execution assistance); and
  • An authentic CCO and management team leadership capability (on-going informed counsel; department strategic alignment in organization strategic management; ethical role; communication thought leadership).  

Want to understand how my approach developed over the years? Here is a small selection of articles:

  1. Likely, F. (2013). Public Relations/Communication Department CCO Reporting: What Information Do CEOs Truly Need? Proceedings. 16th International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC). Miami, Florida. March.
  2. Likely, F. (2012). PR/Communication Department Application of ROI & Other Financial Metrics. Proceedings. 15th International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC). Miami, Florida. March.  
  3. Likely, F. (2005). Major Makeover? Adding Transformational Measures to the Usual Incremental Measures in Your Comprehensive Measurement Plan. The Gauge. Delehaye. 18; 4. October.
  4. Likely, F. (2004). 10 Things We Should Know About Communication Evaluation. Strategic Communication Management. Melcrum. 8; 5. August/September.
  5. Likely. F. (2000). Communication And PR: Made To Measure - How To Manage The Measurement Of Communication. Strategic Communication Management. Melcrum. 4; 1. December/January.