Dear PR Guy,
Please help! I keep reading on listservs and social that it’s almost impossible to prove ROI for nonprofit communications. Now my executive director wants to know how we’re doing, and I don’t have a clue what to tell her.
Signed, Stressing in Silver Spring
First, take a deep breath and relax. The PR Guy is here to help.
Second, forget what you’ve heard in the past, either from the doomsayers and the head-in-the-handers or the well-intentioned but often-misguided consultants in the cottage industry of complicated PR ROI metrics. At the most fundamental level, if you’re having trouble measuring your ROI then you’re measuring the wrong thing.
Take our sibling profession … marketing. While we may scowl at the “Four Ps” and roll our eyes at the day-long packaging summits, you notice that very rarely is anyone asking about ROI. That’s because of what they measure. Back when the PR Guy was the Marketing Guy for a sports and entertainment arena, only one thing mattered: Butts in seats.
So if the Marketing Guy ran a great publicity campaign, with a pile of clips to show for the effort, there was still only one thing the promoter cared about at the end of the night: Did you make me money? If the show made the numbers, the campaign was a success. If it didn’t, the promoter would say something like, “Great. I can use those clips to feed my family until I get to work with a real marketing pro.” (Promoters can be really harsh, if a bit dramatic.)
And while lucre is not generally the end game for nonprofits, something is, and it should be spelled out clearly in the organization’s strategic plan (if it’s not, that’s a whole big other mess that you need to solve first). Which makes ROI easy: If the organization achieved the something—the clear goal laid out in the strategic plan—then the campaign worked. If the goal wasn’t met, the campaign didn’t come through.
Going this route requires a lot of trust. Maybe the goal was unrealistic. Maybe the campaign had a fundamental flaw. Either way, you shouldn’t try to hide behind a mountain of social media engagement, and the boss has to come halfway and own the management challenges. The good news for PR people is that we have the ace in the hole. Trust begins with dialogue, and dialogue is our bread and butter.
Bottom line? When communications plans walk in lockstep with overall strategic plans, the results actually do speak for themselves.