It's Time for Communicators to Integrate Evaluation into Strategic Planning

By Baron, Ayelet | Communication World, April-May 1997 | Go to article overview

It's Time for Communicators to Integrate Evaluation into Strategic Planning


Baron, Ayelet, Communication World


Why have an employee newsletter if no one is reading it because they find the information too corporate and not believable?

Although most of us are trained to include evaluation and measurement into our communication planning, how many communicators actually incorporate measurement into programs and initiatives? As many companies lack a formal communication plan, it is no surprise that few measure the effect of their programs. A survey conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that only 16 percent of North American companies measured ROI (Return on Investment, defined as employee surveys, focus groups and communication audits) on their communication programs at least once every two years.

What Stops Communicators from Measuring?

Measurement should be viewed as an integral part of our communication programs. Why have an employee newsletter if no one is reading it because they find the information too corporate and not believable? Or, more important, how do you know that your employees value the new chats with the CEO that you just launched in an effort to increase morale and productivity? Is it increasing morale? How effective is this new program?

According to Diane Gayeski, Ph.D., associate professor and chair, department of corporate communication, Ithaca College, and partner, OmniCom Associates, Ithaca, N.Y., there are three main reasons why communicators don't measure:

1. Nobody asks them to or gives them time and/or budget to do so.

2. The influences of communication programs are almost never isolated, so it's difficult to posit relationships between performance and communication programs only.

3. Most communication professionals are not comfortable with research methodologies.

Susan Johnston, ABC, adds that two main reasons why communicators do not measure are insecurity and not understanding the need to measure. "Given how unsure communicators seem (based on the proliferation of How Do I Get Management To Take Me Seriously? discussions and seminars), we're afraid that the results will be bad news. After all, they (bosses) keep us from doing a good job and they (audiences) won't understand how hard it is and what a good job we're doing in spite of the other theys. Or we're waiting to measure something we think is good, so we can get brownie points, or keep our jobs, or make our point, or address our agenda."

Elizabeth Howell, ABC, with Southwest Gas Corporation in Tucson, Ariz., concurs by saying, "When I don't measure, it's usually because: 1) I don't know how, 2) I have no budget to out-source the measurement activity, and 3) Management doesn't really want to know. I can document that a print newsletter is not the best way to reach our field people. But does management want to know that? No. Having this nice, professional newsletter makes them feel all warm and fuzzy that we're communicating with employees."

What Types of Measurement Programs Do Senior Management Buy Into?

Shel Holtz, ABC, principal, Holtz Communication & Technology, Concord, Calif., provides the following example of how to use research effectively: "Let's say you conduct an employee communication audit this year. You identify the five key issues the organization is facing and, for each, you ask employees their primary source of information and their preferred sources of information. If in four of the five there are gaps between preferred and actual sources, you know you have a communication problem, and it has been measured. You take corrective action over the course of the year, or introduce a new communication vehicle, then re-measure next year. Has the gap closed? Again, a solid measurement."

Jerry Bryan, ABC, APR, director of corporate communication at Sverdup Corporation in St. Louis, Mo., shares with us two issues on which he recently worked wherein success was judged by crises avoided. "Media explosion did not occur, because I repositioned an issue.

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