Before you can effectively measure the results or return on investment (ROI) of your public relations programs, you have to know what you’re measuring. Review a bunch of PR plans and you’ll see a consistent theme – great-sounding goals and objectives, that upon further inspection is a little better than loosey-goosey guesses at program outcomes.
I suggest if you really want to improve the performance of your public relations programs that you work harder on getting S.M.A.R.T. with your objective definition. If you haven’t heard of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym before, it’s an acronym (and a pretty nifty mnemonic device) used in project management for setting objectives for the project. It’s more than relevant and applicable to public relations strategy and planning.
There are many different versions of this acronym that have popped up since the early 80s when it first surfaced (according to Wikipedia), but here’s the one I’ve used over the years for PR planning:
- Specific – clearly define your objective so that everybody will know exactly what you are trying to accomplish, rather than “double coverage among A-level trade publications, your goal might be secure on placement in the New York Times Bits Blog each quarter). It could also be as simple as distributing two news releases per month on the first and second Monday of the month.
- Measurable – can you measure your progress against the objective with relative ease? In the examples above you can, though you may want to be more specific and report on activity specific to the objective (e.g. what activity is directly tied to that objective?). If you don’t know how you will measure your objective, you need more definitions.
- Actionable – you should be able to complete your objectives within a reasonable amount of time. If your objective is too far in the future, or too complex, break it down into a shorter-term objective. In the two press release per month objective, for example, your first specific, measurable and actionable step might be to create and share a press release calendar with your team by Friday. Step two might be to conduct interviews for the first release and so on. Writing two press releases per month is NOT actionable, because it’s too broad a task. You could check it off at the end of the year, but you need to break it down into bite-sized pieces to be more effective.
- Realistic – be honest with your objective setting. While you want to be aggressive, you also need to be realistic about what you can achieve by your project deadline. If your organization has historically sent out one press release a quarter, is it realistic to believe you can do two a month? Do you have enough news to maintain that pace? Are your sources able to provide information quickly? Does your legal department need more than a week to approve releases? These are all important questions to ask when setting an objective. Don’t just trust your gut for objective setting – if you have available data on current or past performance, use that as a guide. If you increased website traffic by 50% last year, can you increase it by 60% this year? If you set and measure against S.M.A.R.T. objectives, you’ll get more accurate with your forecasting in the future. You may be way off on your projections the first time you do it, but you should also nail it next quarter.
- Time-Based – your objective should be tied to a date (or time). The more specific you can be with this deadline, the better. This has always been the biggest wake-up call for me. There is often a big gap between when I think I can complete a task and when it actually gets done. Use any task or project management system that encourages you to set deadlines for tasks and shows you overdue tasks. Basecamp and ActionMethod are two of my favorites because they enable you to track tasks associated with project components or milestones (rolling up to your objectives). There are free versions of both tools you can play with if you’re not familiar already.
Review your current goals for Q1 or 2011 – do you have them defined? How do they hold up to the S.M.A.R.T. test? Will you have a hard time justifying your bonus or a raise based on the objectives? It’s not too late to revise them to be more specific, measurable, actionable (attainable), realistic and time-based.