Strategic communications planning is the foundation for successful and impactful communications and marketing activities. Each month, Vanguard Communications is releasing a new article describing each step of this important process. Click through to read past articles from our Strategic Communications Planning series. Interested in bringing the strategic communications planning process to your organization? Send us a note and let us know how we can help.
How will we know if we’re on the right track? What will success look like? These are important questions to ask in the early phases of developing your plan. But, the answer is even more important: evaluation. Thinking about how you will measure success in terms of meeting your communications goals and objectives up front will save time, money and headaches when it is time to assess and measure your communications efforts. It also allows for mid-course corrections when it becomes clear that you’re straying from your goals.
In other words, while it feels like evaluation comes at the end of a project, it only works if you incorporate it from the beginning of the strategic planning process.
So how do you design an evaluation approach as part of your communications plan? Start with the objectives you developed early in the process (Strategic Communications Planning Step 2). Write down those measurable objectives again, and determine how you will evaluate each one, as well as what data needs to be collected and when. To determine whether an objective was met or not, a process evaluation may be the most effective. Use quantitative measurement such as counting how many products were distributed, the number of media hits, how many people attended an event, web traffic and download analytics, etc. For other objectives, qualitative measures may be the most effective at measuring changes in awareness, acceptance, or action, including pre- and post- testing, surveys, or in-depth interviews to assess the outcomes of the communications program. A combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to measurement are effective in evaluating your plan from both a process and outcome perspective.
Evaluation should not happen only at the end of the strategic planning process. Assessing the plan on a regular basis against the objectives provides an opportunity to refine the plan and make mid-course corrections. This can be done through regular data collection and analysis as part of a monthly or quarterly reporting process and from audience research gained through message and product testing. This information can then inform the refinements that may be needed by starting again at Step 2 of the strategic planning process (determining goals and objectives) and making informed decisions and adjustments to the plan. For more information about communications research and evaluation methods, download a copy of the National Cancer Institute’s “Making Health Communication Programs Work” (also known as the “Pink Book”).