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Which indicators do communication managers evaluate to control their communication? What challenges do they face when evaluating their communication activities? How will communications controlling develop in the future?
Qualitative interviews with 16 communication managers in the United States of America (9 of them in leading positions) and 4 leading US-American scientists as thought leaders in the field of communication controlling. Survey period 2019.
In her research, PhD student Alexis Bajalia interviewed US-American communication managers of different hierarchical levels as well as academic thought leaders on their assessment of the status quo of measuring and evaluating communication activities. Depending on their professional experience, communication managers set different priorities in evaluation:
Communication managers at junior level understand evaluation primarily in terms of operations and campaigns, and particularly record analytics KPIs such as reach and interaction in online and social media channels. For communication managers in a leadership position, on the other hand, the stakeholder perspective is important. This perspective shows a relationship to the strategic corporate goals, e.g. by means of reputation and relationship indicators such as credibility and trust.
Communication managers see challenges in defining clearly measurable goals for campaigns, which can be used to evaluate and meaningfully present the success of communication. Moreover, they want stable, informative measurement concepts to prove the value added contribution of communication. These statements make it clear that many communications managers are looking for a sparring partner who can help them develop targeted evaluation concepts that are easy to implement. A further challenge is to integrate performance and impact measurements more closely and place them in a larger context in order to present top management with a coherent story about how communication supports the company's goals.
Looking to the future, the surveyed communications managers would particularly like to see more transparency in the industry and more practical insights, e.g. through descriptive best practices from other companies, in order to gain valuable input for their own evaluation of communications activities.
The interviewed experts point out that the purpose of measurement and evaluation cannot be primarily to prove the value contribution of communication: The actual drive must be intrinsic and come from the communication managers themselves. Meaningful evaluation concepts help above all to improve the performance of the communications department and to optimize communications activities in terms of the messages, strategies and channels used. Nevertheless, external pressure from top management to demonstrate how communication influences the company's target groups and how communication measures ultimately support the company's strategic goals is increasing in parallel.
The study provides in-depth insights into evaluation practice and shows what will be important for communication managers in the future. It makes a valuable contribution to the current debate on measurement and evaluation in communication management. Even though the survey is limited to the US-American region, its results nevertheless allow conclusions to be drawn about the situation in Germany and Europe.
The results show that communication managers are increasingly realizing how valuable and important it is not only to look at the performance of their own channels, but also to increasingly ask stakeholders directly about the impact of communication. Appropriate methods such as annual stakeholder surveys or interviews with focus groups can play a key role in the future in directly recording the reputation of the company, its image or the quality of its relationships in the form of credibility and trust, and in being able to demonstrate to top management what effect communication has.
On the other hand, those who only deal with "analytics" and limit themselves to reach and user interactions are purely measuring performance, but not strategically evaluating their work.
Remarkable: On the one hand, there is a growing realisation that the evaluation of communication measures is necessary and useful. At the same time, there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to how to develop and successfully implement targeted evaluation concepts and which methods are best suited for this. Communication managers who already evaluate their work at a strategically high level can position themselves as thought leaders here. In addition, the surveyed communicators would like more practical insights and best practice examples. A stronger exchange among themselves can ensure greater understanding and sovereignty and anchor the strategic evaluation of corporate communications more firmly in communications departments.
February 2020: Public Relations Journal; Alexis Bajalia
More information about the survey: Where Are We Now? Public Relations Professionals Discuss Measurement and Evaluation.