Communications professionals: fight back with evidence

When was the last time you had to push for communications budget? Or convince colleagues that trying a different – or heaven-forbid innovative – format was a good idea?

Being a communications professional sometimes feels like going into battle.

Well, I’m ready to fight… with evidence.

By monitoring, evaluating and learning (MEL) from communications we can build an evidence-base of what works, for what audiences, when and why.

And, over time, maybe we can start to change the attitudes and behaviour on non-communications staff. I was encouraged to read recently that the International Panel on Climate Change ‘has now recognised that it should take the same approach to communications as it does to science: go with the evidence base.’

Communications MEL is, in many ways, straight forward. But there’s very little guidance out there on how to do it.

A new toolkit seeks to plug the gap.

It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ (does that even exist?). But it does offer a framework, key questions, example indicators and tools to help you to monitor and learn from communications activities.

Key sections include:

  • Strategy and management: you can’t measure the ‘success’ of your work if you don’t know what you were trying to do in the first place. This section outlines how to plan and manage your communications, and how to learn from your strategy and management.
  • Reach: how to measure the reach of your outputs and communications activities. Both breadth of reach, but – importantly – whether your reaching your intended
  • Quality and usefulness: how to measure the technical standard of your work; was it relevant, timely, useful? 
  • Uptake and use: the goal is that your intended audience uses or is influence by your work in some way. This is not easy to measure. But there are some simple things you can explore to help better understand uptake and use.
  • Indicators by communications channel: in practice, you often need to search for indicators by channel (e.g. publication, website, blogs), so we also included a table that organises the key indicators for measurement in this way.

Tight budgets, limited resources and juggling 20 things at once (the usual complaints) will continue to make finding time for communications MEL a challenge.

But even if we just do a little bit more of it, we can start to build that evidence base and understand what our audiences like, how they engage with our work, and ultimately, what makes a difference. And this can give us that evidence to justify reasonable communications budgets, resources and plans.

Then, maybe one day it won’t have to be a fight; we can all work together to maximise our impact.

Freelance communications consultant working in the not-for-profit sector. Follow me on Twitter @louballcomms or visit my website www.louiseball.co.uk

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