How PR measurement can improve public health

AMEC framework

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has published a report claiming that money invested in public health improvement is bad value for money. It claims that “many public health improvement programmes are not measured by whether they are cost effective, or even if they work at all.”

Like all reports from the Taxpayers’ Alliance this one is flawed and inaccurate. Ironically, for a report about the need to improve measurement, it uses limited metrics by focusing entirely on just one – ‘cost effectiveness’. For public health there is actually some good best practice guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

However, public health improvement covers a broad spectrum of activity and while most of it is one to one support a lot of it is also about education to help people live healthier lives. The Government Communication Service (GCS), under Alex Aitken, has made huge improvements in the way it plans and measures government communications work, but many of these improvements have still to be implemented across the rest of the public sector including local authorities and NHS trusts.

Most local authority and NHS PR teams that I know are staffed by brilliant, hard working professionals and they are all hampered by a lack of resources and budget. A big part of the problem is that often senior directors and councillors have very little understanding of what public relations is and labour under the illusion it is about publicity and media relations, rather than a strategic business function that can deliver real results to the organisation.

One way of changing the internal perception of what public relations can deliver is by improving how it is planned, measured and evaluated. GCS has done an excellent job on this and has shared many of its best practice guidelines including insight, evaluation, campaigns, customer journey mapping and the OASIS campaign planning guide.

However, the most useful tool that I’ve found for campaign planning is AMEC’s (International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) Integrated Evaluation Framework. Its title confuses many people who think it is just about measurement and evaluation, rather than a useful tool for planning. That’s because the most important stage of measurement and evaluation is before you start. It’s when you set the communications objectives.

The best way to use the tool isn’t to sit down on your own with it,  but to organise a workshop with the directors (and for councils, the executive board or lead member). That way you nail what is often the hardest part of planning which is setting meaningful objectives. The AMEC framework forces you to start with the organisational objectives you want to achieve. If the organisational objectives you’ve been given are ambiguous or unachievable it quickly becomes apparent when using the tool that they need to be improved in order to stand any chance of success. Doing it in a workshop means that the directors or executive members realise this for themselves.

Before starting the workshop its important to ensure all of the participants are familiar with the Barcelona Principles 2.0 so that the system you devise complies with them. This is important because it emphasises to directors and managers the importance of using international best practice. The most important of which are, in this context, numbers two and three:

2) Measuring communication outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs

3) The effect on organisational performance can and should be measured where possible

One of the reasons that PR people are sometimes guilty of measuring outputs (for example media coverage) is because that is what the people briefing them expect them to do. It’s essential to push back on requests to be judged on outputs and to ensure that they understand it’s more important to measure the impact of the outputs on what you are actually trying  to achieve – the outcomes.

Professional measurement isn’t just about reporting results

One of the main reasons for using professional best practice in the measurement and evaluation of communications isn’t about reporting results or demonstrating cost effectiveness, which is why the Taxpayers’ Alliance report is so misleading. The best reasons for using better measurement is firstly because if you do it properly at the start by setting robust objectives then you will get better results as you can be certain that the campaign plan is focusing on achieving the right things.

Secondly, and perhaps the most important, is you should be using measurement throughout every step of the campaign so you are constantly improving and refining what you do. If your focus is on using measurement to get better, instead of to demonstrate success, then by default you will have more success to demonstrate.

That’s why it is also important to differentiate between the metrics you report outside of the PR team and those that you use yourself to improve performance. It can be dangerous to report crude output data like quantity and quality of media coverage, number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes because people will focus on these simple, easy to understand numbers rather than on metrics to do with results and outcomes that actually matter.

Communications case studies for health and the public sector

The AMEC website has some interesting case studies of public sector and public health related communications and PR campaigns including:

Help with improving your communications measurement and evaluation

Please get in touch if you’d like a no obligations chat about how I can help you to improve how you measure and evaluate your communications and public relations activity. I can provide consultancy to help you implement new systems or plan specific campaigns, or I can deliver tailored in-house training courses for your PR and communications team.

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs