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February 22, 2006
Losing an Arm vs. Losing a Pinkie

How to make sure measurement stays in your budget – no matter what.

For nearly two decades now we've been hearing communications professionals whine about how important it is to measure results, but they don't have the budget for it, or it got slashed from their budget. Enough already. Budgeting is a matter of setting priorities. A former client of mine put it this way – "when it came to measurement, you were my right arm. I could always slash off a pinkie, but I was never going to cut off my right arm." And we stayed in his budget year after year. That's because he used data to make better decisions. Like the year we showed him that a major song and dance show they were doing at a trade show was yielding very little in terms of qualified sales leads. Sure, the research cost him $20K or so to do, but he saved $50K out of his trade show budget at every show.

So the question is, how do you make measurement your right arm? You do it regularly, you don’t make decisions without it, and you make sure the head honcho knows you're basing decisions on solid fact not hunches (regardless of what that crazy James Carville has to say).

Take the case of a PR firm in upstate New York. Their client was the Economic Development Agency for a county in upstate New York. When they landed the account, they knew there would be lots of question about how or if they knew they'd be successful. So they put measurement into the budget -- $6500 the first year. Not a huge amount, but enough to do on going media analysis that would show them how well their messaging and positioning and visibility was stacking up against the competition, AND do the first part of a pre/post study to determine the impact that PR was having on attitudes and opinions of local leaders. By being able to demonstrate solid results, both budgets were increased – the one for measurement AND the one for PR.

Another PR manager at a major consumer bank called me to say that her boss wanted her to fire the PR department because they didn't think the results were "good enough." She wanted data on which to make a decision. I conducted a competitive benchmark analysis to see how the media was covering the industry as a whole. As it turned out, when you looked at the numbers, the PR agency was doing a great job, especially compared to the leading competitor. As MasterCard might say: Cost to collect and analyze the clips: $5000. Cost to demonstrate results: $2500. Cost of not having to waste time conducting a major agency search: Priceless.

The point is that in each of these cases, the account manager or PR manager saw measurement as his or her right arm. Not as a way to justify his/her existence, but as a necessary tool for making better decisions and advancing the client or the organization's best interest. So even though the budgets were small, they worked within those parameters and made the choice to keep those funds for research.

All too often, PR managers put measurement in their initial budgets, only to whittle those funds away when an event goes over budget, or when the VP thinks up a new wrinkle at the last minute. Such budget cutting leaves you with either poorly conducted research or no research at all. But worst of all, it leaves you with no way of knowing whether all the resources and efforts that you spent all the money on were effective.

In these cases, the managers were smart enough and committed enough to find and keep the funds for research. And, in every case, their budgets and their clients benefited.

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Katie Delahaye Paine is founder of KDPaine & Partners LLC and Publisher of The Measurement Standard and The One-Minute Benchmarking Bulletin, the first newsletters for marketing and communications professionals dedicated entirely to measurement and accountability. For the past 17 years, Paine and her colleagues have continued the relentless pursuit of quantitative and qualitative measures of her clients’ marketing success. She works with some of the world’s most admired companies including Raytheon, Hewlett-Packard, and Southwest Airlines.

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