Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation
This week, we continued studying the evaluation of public relations campaigns.
Ethical Issues Regarding Evaluation
As is true for any presentation of numbers, there are ways to spin findings which can lead a reader to believe one thing or another. Numbers can be used to make a case, and some numbers, if suppressed or deemphasized or just plain omitted, could alter organizational decision-making. This only gets into telling the truth with numbers. All bets are off if a strategic planner or any sort of analyst out and out alters the figures they have to present, or if they weren’t given accurate or truthful numbers to begin with.
But even if the analyst is completely honest about results and figures, there are still issues with emphasis and language. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the initial purpose had to have been to increase the sale of canned goods. Instead, the campaign was labeled as a success for leading to an increase in awareness of canned foods. While awareness is a perfectly legitimate (and objective) goal for a campaign, the goal of increased sales seems to have been swept under the rug in favor of the one, demonstrable, favorable outcome – a boost in awareness.
On page 125, Place notes, “The role of ethics in public relations evaluation was described by participants as inherently associated with truth and fairness. For some professionals, this meant conveying evaluation data accurately and truthfully to organizational leadership or clients. For other professionals, this meant measuring whether the most accurate story or brand image reached an organization’s publics.”
Professionals, fortunately, realize that their words can be misinterpreted, even if they are reporting accurately on the numbers. If a campaign increases, say, signups for a class by five over an initial figure of five, then how is that reported? Is it a report of a new five signups, or does the professional state that signups have doubled? Both are mathematically correct, but there is an exciting spin to the latter which may be making it look more significant than it truly is.
The Real Warriors and Okay 2 Talk Campaigns
A review of both campaigns revealed good attention to detail. Both campaigns seemed to be rather carefully planned.
The Real Warriors Campaign was designed to encourage active armed services personnel and veterans of recent American military campaigns (since 9/11) to seek psychological counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress disorder, e. g. ‘invisible wounds’. Primary research included focus groups and key informant interviews. All of the campaign’s goals were awareness-based. The goal was to decrease stigma felt by veterans seeking mental health assistance.
The measurement of the effectiveness of the campaign included the distribution of campaign materials, website visitors, and social media interactions, plus news stories. This is good for an awareness campaign, but where are the actions? Where are the increased numbers of veterans seeking help? A far more germane measurement would be to show an increase in personnel hours for armed forces mental health professionals. Or perhaps there could be a measurement of the hiring of more counselors, or agreements with more civilian counselors. Without naming names or otherwise violating privacy, the number of patients being seen could be readily tallied, as could the number of appointments made, even if some of the appointments were never kept. Another objective measurement of success would be a decrease in suicides and fewer calls by veterans to suicide prevention hotlines. The campaign shows none of that.
As for the OK 2 Talk Campaign, that campaign’s goals were to create awareness and also to launch a safe social media space. Tumblr was the chosen platform as it allowed for anonymity. It seems to have also been chosen for a demographic match although that is not spelled out.
The measurement of the effectiveness of that campaign was a lot more closely aligned with its initial goals than the Real Warriors report showed. For example, the OK 2 Talk report gave objective figures regarding engagement on OK2Talk.org. The page views are not necessarily indicative of much. It is the content submissions which seem to better reflect engagement. On the Tumblr blog, visitors are encouraged to anonymously post about how they are feeling. The blog makes it clear that not everyone’s writings will be posted. However, there are several well-written or illustrated posts showcasing various viewpoints. OK 2 Talk intelligently shows all kinds of posts, even those where the writers clearly need help or are just reblogging messages put together by creative professionals.
The campaign report shows the number of content submissions and the number of clickthroughs to a ‘get help’ screen. There is also a statement regarding ‘thousands’ of comments but no specifics; that could have been more clearly shown. But that does not truly matter. Showing the number of clickthroughs to the ‘get help’ screen was an objective and direct measurement of how the campaign is going. It answers the question, ‘did it work, or was it just a colorful and fancy waste of time?’ with ‘yes, it did’, and far more effectively than the distribution of materials ever could. As Smith notes on page 335, “Guesses aren’t good enough; Hard work and cost aren’t measures of effectiveness; Creativity isn’t, either; Dissemination doesn’t equal communication; Knowledge doesn’t always lead to acceptance; and Behavior is the ultimate measure.”
In particular, Real Warriors should have remembered that dissemination does not equal communication. After all, the distributed campaign materials could have gone right into the trash. Without some demonstrated actions (yes, the campaign’s stated goal was awareness, but it could only really be measured with some form of observable action), Real Warriors seems more like a lot of paper redistribution.
The two campaigns have similar goals, and both have the valiant ideal of helping the mentally ill. But it’s only OK 2 Talk which is showing objective and relevant results.
Relating it all back to the ILSC
For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, deciding what to measure, and to make sure it is being accurately measured, are important steps to take. While it is pretty easy to count website visitors using Google Analytics or the like, a better measurement is actual engagement like blog comments, Facebook comments and shares, and LinkedIn comments. This will tie directly to awareness objectives.
For objectives regarding adding high schools to the Small World Initiative, good measurements include the number of times that educators click through to a ‘get information’ page which should be added to a revamped website. Such inquiries could also be expected in the comments and messaging sections of a possible future Facebook group devoted to the ILSC. A similar vehicle for obtaining such inquiries could be a possible future LinkedIn group for the ILSC, and its topics.
Measurements of the campaign reaching donors could be a look at the number of visits to a donations page. It would also be the percentages of site visitors who went all the way through the online donations funnel. Knowing where they stop (if a visit does not lead to a donation) would be extremely helpful information to have.
For the website, Google Analytics should be used to tie back to visitor acquisition. If Facebook turns out to be the most popular place for visitors to come from, then the ILSC should be concentrating their efforts there. A surprisingly small amount of money (e. g. $20.00 or so) can boost a post and reach even more people. This measurement is useful for all types of objectives, as it helps to define where the ILSC’s social media time should be best concentrated. There is little use in devoting hours and hours of time to LinkedIn if the publics don’t come to the website and don’t donate any funds. Awareness needs to be related to action, for it is action that will get the SWI out of its funding gap and help keep the ILSC going for years to come.