Friday, March 09, 2007

Stop the stories. Corporate communications is about serious measurement. Judette Coward-Puglisi

Check any corporate communications department in any part of the world and you will find that they all have one thing in common. They are led by some of the brightest, most enthusiastic professionals in the organisation. The trouble though is that at the seat of power, that cherry red, high-gloss mahogany table with a photograph of the organisation's founder smiling benignly over, the voice of communicators is either never heard or given the final 15 minutes on the agenda.

Responsibility may come from within. For decades, professionals have polished their skills, built their relationships and returned to school to add an impressive array of letters to their name. But while they have been honing the communications aspect of their craft, they have done so at the expense of their corporate business goals. It's the bottom line baby! And communicators have simply not positioned themselves to be measured against what really matters to the CEO: revenue and profit.

Just look at some of the tools practitioners use: press clip books chock full of the latest releases, ad equivalency rates and anecdotes. None of it measures the link between communications and the corporate business goals. Check out though the other senior managers. In the board room, finance, operations and sales executives walk the talk. Armed with the visualisation tools, intelligence, profit and loss statements, they stride into the board room prepared to defend every last dollar spent, and demonstrate how they add value. They walk out with increases in their budget.

Communication professionals need a similar set of cojones. Not possessing the metrics, not knowing how to link the value of communications to the business goals, and not knowing how your PR spend adds value simply does not cut it and does absolutely no service to the profession. According to writer Julie Mc Namara, writing in the International Association of Business Communicators publications, Communications World: "Measuring the effectiveness of PR is critical to moving PR from a tactical function to a strategic component of your company's plan for success. But the old ways of counting clips just aren't good enough to convince today's management executives that their investment in PR and overall communications is paying off."

So how do you begin to add value to the business discussion? Firstly, there is need for alignment. Business, no matter what the size, is concerned either about retaining or growing their customer base. Understanding how this is to be achieved is critical. Does your CEO want to grow business in the region by 20 per cent? Then that goal is to be your goal. Does he or she want to increase customer purchase of product X by 50 per cent? Then that goal is your goal. Does he or she want to generate web-based sales by 40 per cent? Then... well, you get the picture.

With clear business objectives in mind, you can build your communications plan with very specific strategies. For example, if your CEO wanted to increase Product X's sales in Jamaica by 40 per cent, you might develop a strategy of becoming better known and more visible among influential bloggers on the island who write about products within your category. Suppose you got 75 per cent of Jamaican bloggers (your target was 70 per cent) to mention your company's name and product X, and your sales team was able to meet its target directly because of these strategies, you can joyously claim your contribution to your company's success.

Of course measuring communications intelligence can go far beyond that. Visualisation and media intelligence tools from firms such as Factiva and Delahaye offer custom-configured research that perform impressive media monitoring services while offering comparative metrics across time, space and other variables. By efficiently monitoring communications programmes and media, and linking the results of these programmes to company objectives, corporate communications professionals become more valuable to their organisation.

However you decide to measure, forget the anecdotes about your success and apply the rigour. You'll find that the respect that you deserve is only one invitation to the inner circle away.

Judette Coward -Puglisi is the Managing Director of Mango Media Caribbean, a firm that uses powerful metrics to measure the impact of corporate communications and public relations. She is the founder and president of the International Association of Business Communicators, Trinidad and Tobago.