Earning Credibility with the C-Suite: Making sense of PR outputs and outcomes

When setting PR goals and evaluating progress you’ll find that your results fall into one of two categories: outputs Measuring business resultsor outcomes. In the past it was common for businesses and agencies to focus their measurement efforts on PR outputs. However, the PR community is now increasingly recognizing the importance of looking at outcomes. There have been several pushes this year to place more emphasis on PR/business outcomes. One example is the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles which states that measuring PR’s “effect on outcomes is preferred to measuring outputs.”

So what exactly is an outcome and why is it so important?

According to the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), public relations outcomes include:

“shifts in awareness, comprehension, attitude and behavior related to purchase, donations, brand equity, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy, investment decisions, and other shifts in stakeholders regarding a company, NGO, government or entity, as well as the stakeholder’s own beliefs and behaviors.”

In a way, outputs and outcomes can be thought of like cause and effect. PR outputs, such as media briefings, coverage, product reviews, etc., are responsible for “causing” business outcomes – which include things like web traffic, sales leads, new customers, and so on.

Outcomes are valuable because they show how PR has helped to achieve business objectives. And, considering PR professionals are under constant pressure to prove PR’s impact on business results, measuring outcomes provides evidence of PR’s influence.

Clearly it is no longer acceptable to hand over a clip book and assume that it alone will prove a PR program’s success. Executives appreciate seeing results in terms of outcomes – in addition to outputs. Often times they value – and can process – a report that shows increased sales figures much more than they understand one that talks only about the number of media briefings PR helped to secure. To demonstrate PR’s value you need to connect the dots for the executive team.

So, should we give up entirely on measuring outputs? Absolutely not, and here’s why – when PR professionals can show PR results and business results increased in parallel, we can say we’ve contributed to business growth. Measuring both output and outcome data let’s you make that connection. PR outputs also help identify specific PR tasks that could be adjusted to optimize programs for maximum success.

Executives may not fully recognize progress defined only in terms of PR outputs, but PR pros cannot produce the maximum level of business outcomes without understanding PR outputs. So, what’s the takeaway? Measure outputs and outcomes, and then focus on improving and adjusting your PR program until you’re producing the desired business results.

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