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!

Don’t Pass the Torch, Just Share the Light

Photo cred: Mark "the trial"
Photo cred: Mark "the trial"

I really appreciated and related to Patrick Evans‘ latest blog post on his mentor program titled Why You Should Be a Mentor.

He writes, “I hear so many generational experts and business professionals criticize millennials. We don’t work as hard as Gen X folks, we expect things that past generations didn’t and overall, we could be the opposite of the greatest generation. We need your help! He goes on to provide 5 reasons why professionals should consider acting as a mentor for our generation.

I’ve seen many Millenials / Gen Y bloggers that are proud and confident in their belief that they will succeed.  I have also seen seasoned professionals respond by describing the overconfidence and inevitable disappointment of our generation. A good example of this is Teresa Wu’s guest post on Chris Brogans blog and her follow up response on her own blog.

I really enjoyed Teresa’s post and felt that her intentions, to shed some light on the mindset and views of the future Gen Y professionals, was accurate and useful.  The discussions afterward, ehhh not so much.  Whether either viewpoint is right or wrong, I feel is irrelevant and I am always disappointed to find such unproductive discussions taking place.

The important thing is that we all have something to contribute to the community as Patrick described very well.  Seasoned experts and professionals have learned a great deal from their experiences.  They understand what works and what doesn’t. They have been put in real situations that have required them to use critical thinking and problem solving to perform their jobs efficiently given unfamiliar situations.  With such talents, they can truly be great mentors to younger generations who strive to find the same experience and hopefully, success.

In a time of great change, especially in terms of technology and communications, the millenials have a great deal to contribute in return.  While the great amount of experience that many seasoned professionals have developed provides them with knowledge and understanding in their field, it also instills in them a sense of routine to the traditional methods of practice. Of course, these professionals are still very capable of innovation and creativity but they must also acknowledge and incorporate the millenials’ young, FRESH set of eyes and ideas on an evolving industry.  Technologically savvy, communicating on the internet as early as elementary school, they are able and willing to contribute to the future of what the experienced professionals have worked so hard to build.

Instead of arguing about which generation is better, and why the millennial mindset is unreasonable, we should all be working together.  Through collaboration we will find true growth and success as a community, young and old.

If you’d like to mentor a young PR pro, send Patrick an e-mail at patrickevans@gmx.com. He is setting up an e-mail mentoring program to connect young pros with seasoned public relations and social media professionals.

Edit: There’s a very lengthy but good example of the view of Millenials on the WSJ here.

-David Spinks

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2008: A Revolutionary Year for Media and Communications

revolutionNot too long ago, Jacob Morgan tweeted the question “If you could choose one word to describe 2008, what would it be?” to which I replied “Revolutionary“.

Need proof you say? Very well.  All the responses can be found here.

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While 2008 could probably be considered revolutionary for a number of reasons, my response is in reference to media and communications.  The traditional methods of communications and marketing are changing in ways that are unfamiliar, making many uncomfortable, and some just refuse to embrace it. On the other end, there are the revolutionaries who strongly believe in the value of social media and are exploring new ideas to lead the way into a new age of communication.

Businesses struggling due to the economic downturn had to either suffer great losses, or embrace new ideas, grow, and survive. Many have found their answer in Twitter, the micro-blogging service that is becoming more popular by the day.  Others businesses like Nike created their own social networks, finding success by communicating with users in an entirely new way.

Within the last few months we’ve seen other highly publicized examples of the social media revolution.

  • The Israeli government set a precedent bypassing traditional media and connecting directly to real people on twitter and youtube to discuss the events in Gaza. See Story
  • President Elect Barack Obama communicated with the American people throughout his campaign through social media on his website and on Twitter , helping him win the election to become the first U.S. African American President.
  • During the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, anyone with an internet connection became a reporter, allowing concerned friends and family members to find answers quickly. A simple search for #mumbai on Twitter Search provided you with constantly updated news, images and information coming from everywhere in the world.  On the darker side of the use of social media in the events in Mumbai, we also saw the use of new technologies by the terrorists, who used google maps and other web tools to coordinate the attacks. See Story

It’s an exciting time that I feel very fortunate to be a part of.  What innovations and applications to social media will 2009 bring?  How far will the revolution go?  Will you be a revolutionary?

-David Spinks

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