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As 2020 draws to a close, many of us will be looking back on an unprecedented time in both our personal and professional lives and reviewing the impact its had. Analysis and evaluation are integral to the public relations discipline, taking the time to reflect on your organisation’s communication efforts can inform how these lessoned can be used within your communication strategies for the future.
Evaluation is an ongoing process that should regularly evaluate the performance of a campaign, or communication channel of your organisation. This critical analysis allows you to demonstrate the value added to your organisation through its communication efforts, as well as provide the ability to demonstrate a return on investment. (Although this shouldn’t be quantified in financial terms.) In order to perform an honest appraisal of what’s achievable, good research is imperative as the evaluation should be as objective and scientific as possible. Therefore, the use of social scientific research and evaluation methods is recommended.
Dr Anne Gregory, Professor of Corporate Communication at the Business School of the University of Huddersfield, highlights five reasons why evaluation should be embedded into your communication strategies:
Establishing objectives that your communication strategy aims to achieve gives your plan a direction, thus allowing you to focus on achieving the objectives within the timeframe specified. Using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) objectives also allows you to ensure that you’ve created realistic objectives for your communication strategy.
By incorporating objectives into your communication strategies, and succeeding in either reaching or exceeding these, you have demonstrated the effectiveness communication has for your organisation. This in turn, improves the value of communication in relation to other disciplines of your organisation, showing that it has an important role to play with regards to the overall success of your organisation.
Using evaluation methods and employing objectives for your communication strategy allows you to be budget-conscious with both time and money. Knowing what you want to achieve, the time you have and the money to execute it, means you can prioritise and streamline your approach making for a cost-efficient plan.
A communication strategy with clear goals and objectives encourages a good management process as any ideas or aspects that won’t support the strategy to reach the goals will be identified and swiftly deemed irrelevant.
Having a robust plan in place for your communication activities facilitates accountability. By having a clear approach with defined targets to reach promotes responsibility for those involved in the execution of the strategy. It also allows them to prioritise their tasks, allowing planned activities to take precedence over non-essential tasks.
In order for the success of a strategy to be evaluated, the evaluation methods needs to be incorporated right from the beginning to ensure there are appropriate measurement mechanisms in place to accurately evaluate the success of a communication plan. In addition to this, evaluation takes place via the decision-making throughout the communication process. From choosing the type of content and tone of voice, to deciding which communication channel to use and when, and so on. Evaluation is a continuous, on-going element of any communication strategy.
Regardless of whether you achieved your objectives or not, assessing and analysing your communication strategies as a standalone activity is a great way to demonstrate what worked and what didn’t. However, both successes and failures only become lessons learnt if the results are then used to inform and impact your approach in the future. The true power of evaluation comes from when you use your findings to adapt and fine-turn your organisation’s future communication plans and strategies.
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