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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Respondents said that lack of resources was the most important barrier to measuring internal communication efforts. More than half (65.2%, n=172) of the respondents ranked “resource constraints” as their first choice, followed by the inability of determining a specific cause-and-effect relationship between communication initiatives and business results (57.1%, n=151), and time constraints (40.1%, n=106). Though surveyed practitioners said that all listed reasons in the questionnaire could be reasons for not measuring communication effectiveness, lack of resources and inability of determining a specific cause-and-effect relationship have been the leading ones. These two aspects involve factors that are crucial to effectively assess the value of internal communication initiatives and its contribution to organization’s business performance. Moreover, the two reasons also indirectly reflect a lack of support and leadership across the organization, as well as professionals’ inability to use research to develop appropriate evbaluation measures.

531 “I think for most time it was like we were all chasing those numbers and we were all getting those numbers. And now I think it is very much about making sure that you understand how you want to be perceived and how you are perceived now. I still haven’t really seen it [measurement] done in a cost-effective-enough way that can be used consistently for all clients.” In view of the changes that have been experienced in their organizations, some participants said that improving the understanding of public relations functions and roles was very important in getting support from senior organizational leaders regarding measurement

practices:

“The thing about measurement is that historically they only measured advertising because of the big ad budgets. As people started recognizing the need to measure public relations, they started looking at it with an advertising mind. They looked at it and they replicated what has been done in advertising to public relations. And it didn’t work. So, the thing is you really have to set up your measurement goals around your project and do it in a PR way.” “When I just started working with public relations agencies, I have been kind of disappointed because most of the time they continued to measure their work only with media clippings compared to advertising. I don’t think that’s an effective and comprehensive way of measuring. I know there are many other sophisticated ways of measuring and I insist that we need to develop a better formula to measure not just the messages included in the clippings but also the position of the article in the media and the perceptions of the audiences.” In addition, the survey data indicated that differences between low-effectiveness and high-effectiveness organizations existed in the following three aspects: (1) not knowing how to measure, (2) not getting internal assistance to gather the data, and (3) concerned with setting performance targets for communication initiatives and being held accountable. Loweffectiveness organizations recognize the difficulty for them is to learn how to develop reliable measurement metrics and to be able to get the internal support for data collection. The concerns of high-effectiveness organizations, on the other hand, are the reliability and accountability of business outcome metrics.

532

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28.80% 27.50% 17.90% 17.90% 10.30% 1.30%

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Finding #5: Communicators rely especially on three measurement approaches to assess internal communication efforts: (1) employee feedback gathered by surveys, (2) employee participation in related communication initiatives, and (3) managerial feedback collected via surveys.

Respondents were asked to indicate what outcome measurement approaches they used to determine the effectiveness of organization’s internal communication efforts. Though diverse outcome measures were mentioned, e.g., employee feedback, managerial feedback, increased employee participation, decreased turnover, and financial and customer measures were

mentioned, three specific approaches were mentioned by 30% or more of participants. They are:

(1) employee feedback gathered by surveys (55.5%, n=147); (2) increased employee participation related to an initiative (34.5%, n=91); and (3) managerial feedback gathered via surveys (30.1%, n=80). The three outcome measures were used by organizations in different geographic regions and of different sizes.

More importantly, high-effectiveness organizations and low-effectiveness organizations exhibited important differences in the selection and use of measurement approaches. See Figure

1.4 for detailed information.

533

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3. Operational measures (e.g., increased productivity)

2. Employee feedback collected through focus groups

1. Customer measures (e.g., sales growth, customer satisfaction)

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A far greater number of high-effectiveness organizations (20.3%) use objective measures of behavior change to assess communication initiatives than do low-effectiveness ones (2.5%).

Conducting focus groups to collect feedback from both employees and managers is another effective method. Here, low-effectiveness organizations said they lacked knowledge and expertise in using this particular research method compared to high-effectiveness organizations (6.2% vs. 28.0% in terms of employee feedback; 5.0% vs. 22.0% in terms of manager feedback).





Operational and customer measures are two other areas where at low-effectiveness organizations need to improve in the future. In addition, more efforts could be put into areas such as customer satisfaction, employee productivity, and sales growth to assess how effective communication initiatives have contributed to the organization’s business performance.

For participants in in-depth interviews, the researchers asked them to briefly review the Gold Quill Award-winning cases with a focus on measurement and evaluation. Not surprisingly, almost all award-winning cases implemented several approaches to measure the achievements in 534 goals and objectives of that specific case. Approaches mentioned most often were pre- and postsurveys among employees, focus groups with selected participants, tracking of employee productivity, engagement and retention rates, and other market value measures.

Finding #6: Though the purposes of developing internal communication initiatives could be diverse, four primary reasons for implementing internal communication programs were mentioned most often. They are: (1) explaining and promoting new programs and policies;

(2) educating employees about organizational culture and values; (3) providing information on organizational performance and financial objectives; and (4) helping employees understand the business.

Survey respondents said that well designed internal communication initiatives can help organization explain and promote new programs and policies (70.2%, n=186), educate employees about organizational culture and values (62.8%, n=166), provide information on organizational performance and business objectives (62.6%, n=165), and help employees better understand their organization’s business (62.3%, n=164).

Respondents from high-effectiveness organizations gave even stronger support to these four goals. Almost all respondents (97.6%) from high-effectiveness organizations indicated that their organizations have used internal communication programs to explain and promote new programs and policies to employees and other internal publics. However, only 32.9% loweffectiveness organizations have valued this informational function. Educating function is another major point that distinguished low- and high-effectiveness organizations. In addition, 88% of respondents from high-effectiveness organizations said their organization has used internal communication programs to educate employees about organizational culture and values, compared to 29.6% among low-effectiveness organizations. Similarly, 85.7% high-effectiveness organizations used internal communications to provide information on organizational performance and financial objectives, while only 29.3% low-effectiveness organizations have applied so.

Finally, low-effectiveness organizations indicated that they seldom use internal communication programs to communicate with employees on how their actions would affect customers (4.9%). In contrast, 76.3% of high-effectiveness organizations have communicated with employees in such an approach.

535 Figure 1.5: Top 4 most effective internal communication programs

1. explaining and promoting new programs and policies

2. educating employees about organizational culture and values

3. providing information on organizational performance and financial objectives

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Conclusions and Implications

This study focused on how and to what communicators attempt to measure the ROI of internal communications, or other aspects of strategic employee communications. Perhaps the most important finding is that there is a long way to go. Virtually all communicators in the study emphasized the importance of linking internal communication to business performance.

However, the effectiveness of many employee communication programs is not assessed, whether due to lack of resources, research knowledge or time. This is discouraging if not surprising.

Coupled with increasing demands for effectiveness from senior organizational leaders, communication professionals have found themselves faced with a quickly changing business environment in which they must make a direct and strong link between their communication efforts and the organization’s business performance. The results suggested that communication effectiveness is complex not only in the way of interpretation, but also in operationalization. The level of applying business outcome metrics to measure communication effectiveness varied across organizations, and the approaches used at the operational level must be adapted in different situations.

536 The measurement issue and its contribution to an organization’s business performance have been given an increasing emphasis in the selection of approaches and with regard to enhancing the level of integrity among employees. In particular, several aspects of internal communication initiatives were mentioned as having the utmost importance. As a consequence, measurement efforts have been distributed to aspects like increased awareness or understanding, concentrated engagement among employees, and improved employee productivity or job performance. However, respondents admitted that there is no single approach or template that can be applied to all situations and clients. Diverse formal and informal research methods have been widely used to collect intended audience’s feedback on communication programs.

Business metrics developed by independent research firms have also been used to assess the success of communication programs.

Even though communication executives believed that measurement should be part of standard operating practice in the organization, they also believe that a consultative leadership direction was important for them to enhance the importance of communication effectiveness to the organization. This has implications for communication practitioners to develop reliable and consistent measurement approaches in addition to being competent in their job and consistent in handling different communication programs. The level of resources available for communication practitioners influences the outcomes, no matter at the credibility level or the financial level. This implies that communication outcomes should be reinforced by the way an organization allocates its resources.

Though there has been research on communication effectiveness and measurement issues, and how reliable measures can leverage the value internal communication, our research continues the discussion by demonstrating the trends or patterns successful communication executives have used in their practices. Given the changing organizational environment and the need for organizations and clients to have a committed investment, there is a need for continued research into the link between communication effectiveness and organization’s business performance.

The issue of effective metrics and measurement addressed in this article is sufficiently important to suggest alternative research methods that enable the business communicators to better understand and prove whether any of the internal communication programs are “effective” in terms of adding market value. With the perceived prevalence of using social media in the marketing world, respondents in this study also expressed their concerns about how measurement and metric issues will be associated with the new digital media environment. The increased number of new media has been driven largely by improvements in technology and the ability to enable customers interacting with the technology. These new approaches have been used by marketers as well as business communicator to create experiences for their key publics to differentiate their products and services from competitors.

Limitations Care must be exercised in interpreting the research findings in this article for several reasons. First, data from the international online survey is partial. Though the analysis of the data revealed several important trends in measurement issues, lack of a comprehensive view of the survey data renders the interpretation incomplete. Second, even though the majority of the participants in the online survey as well as in the in-depth interviews agreed that internal communication programs could contribute significantly to business outcomes, an advanced 537 statistical testing is missing from the quantitative perspective to make the conclusions generalizable. Future research could focus on designing specific studies to test the causal relationships by using a quantitative method. Finally, though this article analyzed data from a global project, the in-depth interview sample heavily focused on respondents and their opinions from North America, with one participant from South America (e.g., Brazil). Future research can extend the framework and analysis to include more participants in different geographic regions to discover measurement challenges they have been facing.

538

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