Benchmarking is Critical…No Matter the Program

ChuckThis is a guest post by Chuck Hemann, the research manager for Dix & Eaton, a communications consulting firm, where he helps lead measurement, monitoring (social and traditional) and competitive intelligence efforts for the agency’s clients. You can connect with Chuck on Twitter and at his blog on PR measurement. The views in this post belong to Chuck Hemann and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of his employer...
Photo cred: "HeyThereSpaceman"
Photo cred: "HeyThereSpaceman"

The measurement geeks among us (I’d count myself in that category) are often fond of talking about the importance of setting measurable goals and objectives, and benchmarking. I’m of the opinion that these two steps are 1a and 1b (or reversed if you’d like) of ANY communications program, not just public relations.

The importance of setting measurable goals and objectives will be left for another day. If you want to learn more about that you can visit the blogs of Katie Paine and Don Bartholomew.

Rather, David thought it would be helpful if I spent a little time on benchmarking. Benchmarking can help you leverage your communications program by providing insights and ensuing recommendations that ensure your messages respond to actual differences in perception between you and your peer group. We recommend to clients all the time that they benchmark to start social media, advertising, marketing, even internal communications programs. As critical as it is to set measurable goals and objectives, it might be even more critical that those measurable goals and objectives be grounded in some basis of fact. Benchmarking can help you do that.

So what are the two most common ways that we benchmark?

1. Content analysis – this method really applies to social and traditional media relations. What are the media saying about you? Is it positive? Is it negative? Where are they talking about you? What messages are they picking up? Are they reacting to an experience they had with your company or product (particularly applicable to social media)? Why are they talking about you? Is the coverage surrounding a major corporate event? These are just some of the questions you would try to answer by benchmarking before the start of a communications program. The good news for you is that there are a plethora of tools available to you that can help gather the relevant data and then analyze it. However, if you prefer a low-tech approach, many of these questions/thoughts can be answered by even the most math averse among us.

2. Surveys – content analysis tends to be limited to social and traditional media campaigns, while surveys can help you answer many more questions, and aren’t just limited to those two types of efforts. You can utilize surveys at the start of internal communications, marketing, advertising, even traditional and social media programs. We often survey journalists at the start of media relations programs in order to gauge awareness (there’s that dirty word again) of the company or its products.

There are obviously others, these are just two of the more popular methods.

TWO WORDS OF CAUTION

1. Do not skip this step. Far too often, we are in a hurry to begin the program without any basis for where we are now/what we’ve already done. You don’t want to be in the position where someone asks you about the performance of a campaign and you have nothing to compare it against.

2. Be sure to allocate enough budget for this process. Why is research often neglected in communications? Because it has the perception (however misguided) that it’s expensive to conduct. Here’s what some won’t tell you…it is sometimes. Depending upon the scope of the project, a survey or content analysis can be pricey. However, in most instances you can decipher enough actionable insight by using approximately 8-10% of your overall budget. I know it seems high, but I think you’d prefer to be achieving what you said you’d achieve, right?

Anyway, are there things that I haven’t mentioned here that you are doing? If so, what have you experienced? Are clients resistant? Are we as professionals resistant? I’m looking forward to learning from you!

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