The concept of Communication strategy (cs) is based on the assumption that corporate communication/
public relations/ communication management is practised as a strategic management function; that it
assists the organisation to adapt to its environment by achieving a balance between commercial
imperatives and socially acceptable behaviour; that it identifies and manages issues and stakeholders to
ensure that organisational and communication goals are aligned to societal and stakeholder values and
norms; and that it builds relationships through communication with those on whom the organisation
depends to meet its economic and socio-political goals.
Communication strategy is conceptualised as a functional strategy, providing focus and direction to the
Communication function. It is facilitated by a practitioner performing the role of the communication
manager at the functional organisational level. It is the outcome of a strategic thinking process by senior
communication practitioners and top managers, taking strategic decisions on the management of, and
the communication with, strategic stakeholders. Developing Communication strategy makes the
Communication function relevant in the strategic management process by providing the link between the
organisation‟s strategic goals and its communication plans.
The Communication strategy development process can be summarised as including both the formulation
of communication goals in the Communication function‟s „deliberate‟ strategy development (typically as
part of the budgeting cycle, for example once a year), as well as the ongoing formulation of
communication goals as part of „emergent‟ strategy development (the latter resulting from
environmental scanning and issues management).
The Communication strategy formulation process consists of several steps:
Step 1: Develop 'deliberate' communication goals. The organisation's key (strategic) priorities are
reviewed, culminating in a series of communication goals and themes aligned to
these priorities, representing 'deliberate' Communication strategy. The communication goals focus on
closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the Communication
Step 2: Set efficiency targets. These are set to supplement communication goals, thereby increasing
the efficiency of the Communication function.
Step 3: Develop 'emergent' communication goals. Constantly emerging societal and stakeholder
issues that are identified in the organisation‟s issues and stakeholder management process are
addressed in a series of communication goals and themes that represent 'emergent' Communication
strategy. The communication goals focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby
increasing the effectiveness of the Communication function.
Step 4: Develop a communication framework. Strategy development is transformed into strategy
implementation by means of the communication framework. The latter provides an opportunity to
indicate which communication plans will be developed around each of the goals.
Step 5: Set communication budgets. The communication framework is resourced by deploying a
Step 6: Set evaluation methodology. The measurement of delivery on communication goals and
efficiency targets are planned here.
Step 7: Generate communication plans. Properties defined in the Communication strategy for each of
the intended Communication plans (e.g. descriptions, communication goals, planning horizons, and
responsible people) will feed automatically through to the new Communication plans.
DEVELOP 'DELIBERATE' COMMUNICATION GOALS
In Step 1, the organisation's key (strategic) priorities are reviewed and a series of communication goals
and themes determined that are aligned to these priorities. This represents the development of
'deliberate' Communication strategy.
Review the organisation’s key (strategic) priorities
As a point of departure, you must review the organisation‟s key (strategic) priorities. Most organisations
have an annual strategy development process linked to its budgeting cycle. Differing from organisation to
organisation, the result of this process is called corporate strategy, enterprise strategy, business
objectives or strategic intent from which the key strategic priorities of the organisation for a specific
period can be deducted. These strategic priorities (also called strategic goals) serve as the umbrella
under which the rest of the organisation‟s functional strategies belong.
Develop communication goals and themes
Based on the key (strategic) priorities, you are to develop a series of communication goals (and
themes) outlining the deliberate strategy of the Communication function. These communication goals will
provide the Communication function with a sense of purposeful direction, ensuring that it focuses its
resources on doing the right things.
Communication goal-setting is the most important step in linking Communication strategy to higher-level
strategic priorities. A communication goal is the destination an organisation wants to reach through its
communication with regards to strategic priorities and their implications for stakeholders. It provides the
link with lower-level communication plans that are developed to implement these goals.
Communication themes are also developed as broad messages that the organisation wants to
communicate about specific strategic priorities. Often, organisations refer to themes as position
Well-formulated communication goals and communication themes are central to communication strategy
development and should focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps that exist between
organisations and their internal and external stakeholders.
Close gaps to realise the organisation’s strategic
Deliberate (and emergent) communication strategies, no matter in which industry or context, usually
have one aspect in common namely the need to address the vision – culture - reputation gaps that exist
in modern organisations. Understanding the core business of communication management in this context
makes it much easier to identify the function‟s role in working with the rest of the organisation towards a
desired future (the so-called strategic intent).
From the vision – culture – reputation gaps, issues arise that need to be dealt with appropriately. The
way in which an issue will be addressed, depends on the nature of the issue. Not all issues can be solved
by communication alone. It is therefore important to classify issues that arise from these gaps in order to
direct one‟s communication. There are five issue types:
Organisational issues Type 1. Communication is not the cause of the problem, but can
provide a solution (e.g. organisational change such as transformation or a merger).
Organisational issues Type 2. Communication is not the cause of the problem, cannot provide
a solution but can explain the issue (e.g. budget cuts or new legislation).
Corporate communication issues. Where too little or no communication with external
stakeholders is the problem (e.g. with the media in case of negative publicity; or with investors in
case of a volatile share price).
Management communication issues. Where too little or no (internal) communication
between managers and employees is the cause of the problem (e.g. communication about the
organisation‟s vision or staff reductions).
(Tactical) communication issues. Where messages are not reaching target audiences (e.g.
because of inappropriate communication channels such as television to reach a rural population; or
email to reach factory workers; or difficult and technical language used to reach people who are
communicating in their second language).
The Communication Function‟s strategic mandate is to support the CEO in achieving the organisation‟s
strategic priorities through its core competence of corporate brand or reputation management.
Effectively managing the organisation‟s reputation and/or brand requires perfect alignment of the
organisation‟s vision (the leadership‟s aspirations for the future of the organisation, which is much more
than a one-line slogan -- it is the story that clearly paints the picture of the organisation‟s desired
future); culture (the way in which the organisation presents itself through the behaviour of its
employees); and reputation (the collective perception of the organisation among its key stakeholders,
built over time).
In striving for the perfect balance between these three elements, the job of the Communication function
is to close the gaps that may exist between them. There are potentially three different gaps that need to
1. The vision-culture gap develops when the leadership moves the organisation in a strategic
direction not understood by employees (a management communication issue) or not supported by
employees. (In a worst case scenario, the latter is an organisational issue Type 2 where
communication cannot provide a solution, but can be used to explain the issue. In a best case
scenario, this is an organisational issue Type 1 where communication proves successful in obtaining
2. The reputation-culture gap is caused by a misalignment between the organisation‟s reputation
and culture. It usually means an organisation does not practise what it preaches and, therefore,
inevitably leads to confusion about what the organisation stands for. (This is an organisational
issue Type 1, where communication in the form of perception surveys amongst stakeholders will
bring the confusion and its cause to light. This is also a management communication issue in
bringing to employees/managers‟ attention the importance of „walking the talk‟. This can also be a
corporate communication issue when external stakeholders do not understand the vision because
of insufficient communication from management.)
3. The reputation-vision gap is the result of conflict between what the leadership of the
organisation sees as its future and key stakeholders‟ perceptions/expectations of the organisation.
(This is a corporate communication issue when stakeholders have the wrong perception of where
the organisation is going because of insufficient communication by management to them. It is
however an organisational issue Type 1 when stakeholder expectations of where the organisation
should be going are in conflict with where the leadership thinks it should be going. In this case
communication can be used to provide a solution by bringing the societal or stakeholder
perspective to management in order that organisational strategies can be adjusted).
From the above it is evident that the Communication strategy is much more than one-way
communication from the organisation to its internal and external stakeholders to communicate the
organisation’s desired future and its strategic priorities. Rather, it is two-way communication to
create mutual agreement and understanding of the organisation‟s desired future and its strategic
When employees (internal stakeholders) have a clear understanding of the vision and strategic priorities
of the organisation and they know what behaviour is expected of them in order to achieve it, they are
likely to behave accordingly (closing the vision-culture gap).
When the relevant external stakeholders understand exactly where the leadership of the organisation is
taking it (vision) and what it will focus on to get there (strategic priorities), and as they see its
employees behaving in a manner congruent with their understanding of where the organisation is
heading (closing the reputation-culture gap), they are likely to experience the organisation more
positively (closing the vision-reputation gap).
The challenge in the development of Communication strategy is to gain insight regarding the relation
between the organisation‟s strategic priorities and its internal and external stakeholders‟ agendas, needs
and wants. Obtaining this insight will enable you to define the unique contribution of the Communication
function resulting in three to five key priorities for the Communication function.
View an example of key priorities.
Close the vision-culture gap
In order to develop strategies to close this gap, the Corporate Communication strategist, as a starting
point, has to have a clear understanding of the organisation‟s strategic intent and priorities. Merely
repeating to employees the words used to capture the leadership‟s thinking in the corporate strategy
document is not enough. The idea is to delve deeper and to unpack the underlying intent of the vision
and each of the strategic goals (sometimes called business plan objectives or a variety of other terms) so
that employees can truly understand and therefore support it.
Another step towards closing this gap is to define enterprise values that are in support of the vision and
strategic goals and to develop a Code of Conduct that captures the desired behaviours for living those
values. The communication strategy will seek to create maximum understanding and enterprise-wide
buy-in for the values and behaviours.
Close the vision-reputation gap
The primary focus of the communication strategy in closing this gap is effective stakeholder relationship
management. To perform this function effectively, the Communication strategist needs to be involved in
the formulation of the vision (organisation‟s strategic intent) and strategic priorities as these have to be
informed by insights on stakeholder needs, expectations and perceptions.
Once the organisation‟s strategy is developed and the vision and strategic goals are clearly articulated
(or implicitly understood), it becomes a function of the communication strategy to identify the most
relevant stakeholders, not only for the organisation as a whole, but more importantly for each of the
strategic goals. The communication strategy then has to specify the ways in which the relationship with
each of those stakeholders will be managed to ensure common understanding among stakeholders and
the organisation of where it is heading and what it will focus on to get there. It is part of the
communication strategy development phase to specify the measurement tools that will be employed to
determine and track stakeholder perceptions, thereby determining the size and nature of the gap that
still needs to be closed.
Close the reputation-culture gap
This becomes almost a natural consequence of the success achieved in closing the other two gaps. When
employees behave in a way that is congruent with the organisation‟s vision and strategic goals (closing
the vision-culture gap) and the organisation and its key stakeholders have a commonly shared view and
understanding of the vision and strategic goals (closing the vision-reputation gap), there should be no
gap between what the stakeholders expect of the organisation and how they experience the behaviour of
SET EFFICIENCY TARGETS
An industry under fire
In Public Relations and Communication Management, strong emphasis has been placed on the
effectiveness of progammes, plans and campaigns, and with very good reason. At the end of the day,
what matters most are the results achieved. In spite of attempts to move from a cost to profit centre in
the 1990s, more than 85% of all Communication functions are operating as cost centres, suggesting an
assigned budget to be spent in line with a given mandate from the top, with or without the potential to
realise income. Some Communication functions operate as in-house agencies supplying communication
products and services at a charge to other units of the organisation. Others are managed purely as
support functions without any expectation to generate income.
Whatever the case may be, the reality of being held accountable for how the organisation‟s resources are
spent – the accumulated costs - is undeniably wide-spread and prevalent not only in private
organisations, but also in the public services sector. In an era of downsizing characterised by the quest
for enhanced efficiencies, communication functions are not escaping the demand to 'do more with less'.
Even worse, there seem to be an embedded understanding that cost centres are fair targets of reduction
and elimination if the going gets rough.
Responding to the pressure, the Communication industry has reacted mainly in three ways:
1. A renewed focus on effectiveness – understanding what should be achieved by communication
products, programmes, campaigns etc.
2. A search for proving the illusive ROI case – substantiating the overall value of managed
communication in terms of the value created for the organisation
3. A closer look at the management of operations – managing time, quality and cost in line with the
quest for enhanced efficiency
Step 1 and 3 of the Communication strategy are concerned with developing communication goals in a
manner that will facilitate the effectiveness of the communication function. This is done through
alignment with the organisation‟s strategic goals as well as issues and stakeholders in the environment.
Step 2 places the spotlight on the way in which the function manages its operations and offers the user
an opportunity to supplement the set communication goals with efficiency targets.
Step 4 offers the communication framework as a catalytic mechanism to transform strategy development
into strategy implementation.
Step 5 resources the implementation by deploying a budget.
Step 6 leads into the building of a ROI case, by ensuring that what could have been „big, hairy,
audacious goals‟ and vastly general efficiency targets are specific enough to be measured.
For a period in the late twentieth century, many scholars and companies believed that managing
operations was the most critical component of any organisation‟s strategy. Inspired by the remarkable
results achieved by Japanese companies, most organisations and their consultants placed a high priority
on redesigning, reengineering, and continuously improving their processes. Company‟s efforts to achieve
operational excellence were largely successful. Many enjoyed dramatic improvements in the quality, cost
and responsiveness of manufacturing and service delivery processes. But there were also huge sacrifices
made, and several healthy business practices became casualties of this development. As with every
development in business, criticism mounted and through the pen of the gurus the pendulum have since
swung from evolution to revolution, from process to people, from step-wise improvement to shifts in
performance, and from operational excellence to sustainable strategy.
Wisdom gained from the above, is never to pursue efficiency at all cost. Yet, managing operations as a
priority is as critical as it was 5 or 10 years ago. Without excellent operations, organisations find it
difficult to execute any strategy. In the final analysis the ultimate challenge lies in a combination of Key
Strategic Priorities (do the right things) and Operational Excellence (do things right).
Driving efficiency in Communication Management
Very little has been done in terms of unpacking efficiency for Corporate Communication, which in part
explains why efficiency measures have been disregarded for so long. However, taking a few sheets from
the general management book, it seems that setting efficiency targets – like setting goals and objectives
– vary depending on the level of planning. More specifically applied to Communication Management, the
nature of efficiency targets set in the communication strategy, communication plan and communication
activity will change.
The focus in the Communication Strategy will be placed on strategic management (e.g. strategic
alignment, meta-planning, financial /resource allocation, continues learning and improvement, and
information system deployment);
View an example of efficiency targets
the emphasis in the Communication plan will be on project management (utilisation of
resources, supplier management, client satisfaction), and
in planning Communication activities it will be inputs and throughputs that count (e.g. process
quality, task time, cycle time, activity cost).
Planning for operational excellence should therefore happen on every level of planning. The question to
ask is how we can improve the utilisation of our scarce resources in bringing about the desired results
(achieving our goals, objectives and deliverables). Often this boils down to cost reduction or process
improvement. When setting efficiency targets it is important to consider the typical measures to be used
in determining success. In order to stimulate thinking and demonstrate the intention with efficiency
target setting, a list of targets and measures taken from Robert Kaplan and David Norton‟s Strategy
Maps were adapted for the Communication function.
Efficiency target Method
Become the industry cost Cost per unit (e.g. staff newsletter), benchmarked against
Percentage of annual reduction in cost per output
Percentage of cost budget variance
Develop capacity Percentage of employees trained in the five core
Number or percentage of employees qualified with
Percentage of employees with knowledge and training in the
core competencies identified for the team
Instil a culture of continuous Employee survey on culture for continuous improvement and
improvement knowledge sharing
Number of new process improvement ideas generated
Percent of employees process improvement suggestions
Number of ideas for quality and process improvement shared
across multiple business units
Performance improvement from employee suggestions and
actions (cost savings, process time reductions).
Achieve just-in-time supplier Lead time from request to supplier to receipt of product /
On-time delivery percentage
Percentage of transgression on delivery timelines
Use new ideas from suppliers Number of innovations from suppliers
Achieve supplier partnership Number of suppliers providing communication services
directly to internal customers
Lower the cost of producing Activity-based cost per communication product
Cost per unit of output (printed newsletter)
Continuously improve Number of processes with substantial improvements
Number of inefficient or non-value added processes
Improve process Cycle time (from start of production to product completed)
Deliver responsively to Lead times, from request to delivery, per proposal
internal customers (other
On-time delivery percentage
Increase account share with Percent of growth in existing customers‟ business
internal customers (other
DEVELOP 'EMERGENT' COMMUNICATION GOALS
In Step 3, constantly emerging societal and stakeholder issues that are identified in the organisation's
issues and stakeholder management process are addressed in a series of communication goals and
themes that represent 'emergent' Communication strategy.
Issues and stakeholder management
For the Communication function, the process of formulating emergent (also called emerging) strategy
is a continuous process of detecting, identifying, interpreting and monitoring issues in order to pre-empt
the implications of these issues on the organisation‟s stakeholders, its policies and its strategies.
The outcome of regular, structured and systematic analysis of the environment is an Issues Map. This
Issues Map results from the prioritisation of issues based on consequences for stakeholders.
View an Issues Map.
For each of the issues, taking into consideration the issue analysed and the stakeholders impacted,
communication goals and themes are to be developed in order to cope with a problem/opportunity
inherent to the issue. The formulation of a set of communication goals and themes in emergent strategy
formulation is similar to the process followed with deliberate strategy formulation in Step 1.
For example, an organisation may decide to focus on its human capital as a highly valued resource by
consistently communicating to employees that they are the organisation‟s competitive edge -- not an
issue, but rather a communication opportunity for the leadership. This is an intended (deliberate)
strategy with a related communication programme to achieve this strategic goal. However, through a
culture and climate study, the organisation may realise that the trust gap between management and
employees has actually widened instead of closed. As a result, the organisation may turn its attention to
unaddressed underlying issues (e.g. perceived inequality and preferential treatment) important to
employees, instead of the constant feed of “feel good messages” (the so called Company speak). This
becomes an emergent strategy, dealing with a detected issue arising from the internal environment.
Organisations must be alert to recognise advantageous emergent strategies, and flexible to accept them.
Otherwise, an ineffective intended strategy may not bring the desired results, and a beneficial emergent
strategy will not be allowed to thrive.
Analyse the environment
Without a research orientation, communication practitioners cannot play a part in Issues or Risk
Management and therefore in the formulation of emergent strategy. There are two types of research in
communication: environmental scanning, which provides information needed for strategy formulation;
and evaluation research, which assesses the achievement of communication objectives. In practice, the
focus is on the latter. However, it is by conducting environmental scanning and analysis that the
Communication function will make its biggest contribution to strategy formulation at the Board and top
The credibility and impact of the Communication function in the strategic management process is
increased by continuous scanning of the internal and external environment. This may entail the
Conducting advanced media analysis at regular intervals, to understand the agenda and
behavioural patterns of key decision-makers (editors and journalists) and publications (electronic
and print) in the mass media.
Engaging in rigorous monitoring of relevant government decision-makers on all identified issues.
Conducting opinion audits (formal or informal surveys) amongst strategic stakeholders,
influencers and opinion leaders to determine their opinions on identified issues. Creating channels
to track the opinions of stakeholders on these issues over time.
Identifying any (all) interest groups or activists that campaign for, or against, or have a vested
interest in any of the identified issues.
Resulting from environmental scanning, analysis of an issue consists of:
Showing insight into the main problem and/or opportunity inherent to the issue (e.g. How does
this issue affect the organisation now, or will it impact on the organisation in future?).
Understanding the issue in the context of its life cycle development in order to indicate its status
(the Traffic Light Status tool may be used to indicate status).
An honest assessment of the type of issue/ risk we‟re dealing with, as not all identified issues
can be solved solely through communication interventions (the Issue Typology tool of Steyn &
Puth, 2000 is often used to manage expectations upfront and lay the foundation for realistic goals
and objectives to follow).
View an example of Issues Analysis.
If environmental scanning is a starting point for the formulation of emergent strategy, then stakeholder
assessment is its control focus.
The first step in setting communication goals and themes is to identify the relevant stakeholders to an
issue. Any issue without an affected stakeholder group is really not an issue at all.
The motivation to constantly analyse the internal and external environments of an organisation lies in
tracking stakeholder reactions to current issues and detecting new issues.
Intelligence gained from environmental scanning may entail:
The opinions, knowledge and expectations of both internal and external stakeholders such as
employees, communities, and customers.
The agenda of the media as gatekeepers and advocates of particular viewpoints.
The agendas of interest groups and activists, who directly seek to influence public policy.
The government‟s position.
In linking issues to stakeholders, there are four important elements to consider:
The implications of an issue on a stakeholder group and the likely behaviour of the stakeholder
group as a result. (What are the implications on stakeholder X? What is the likely behaviour of
stakeholder X? Possible actions they may take?).
The degree to which a stakeholder is already aware of the existence of an issue (usually rated on
a 5-point Likert scale).
The extent to which the organisation is vulnerable to the likely stakeholder reaction (usually
rated on a 5-point Likert scale). It is important to determine the amount of power a stakeholder
group has in relation to a specific issue. The amount of power depends on the organisation‟s
dependency on that stakeholder group as well as the access that the group has to political
processes and to the mass media.
The relative strategic importance of the stakeholder to the organisation. (Is the stakeholder
labelled as a primary or secondary stakeholder?)
View an example of Stakeholder Interpretation.
There are four approaches in dealing with stakeholders:
Approach 1 - Inactivity: The first approach, inactivity, involves ignoring the opinions and values of
stakeholder groups and continuing “business as usual”.
For instance, this would be the case when a company starts receiving complaints from customers about
defective tyres that they are manufacturing. The company however decides to ignore the complaints and
continues selling the tyres.
Approach 2 - Reactivity: The second approach, reactivity, involves waiting for something to occur
(usually stimulated by a stakeholder group) and responding to that.
Continuing the example: After a series of accidents and the loss of lives the Government (Dept. of
Transport) commissions an inquiry. Only now does the organisation withdraw its tyres from the market.
Approach 3 – Pro-activity: The third approach, pro-activity, is anticipatory. It involves trying to predict
the behaviour of stakeholder groups, the external changes that may occur and positioning the
In the above example, if the organisation had been in touch with its customers or dealers through
research, they could have investigated the matter before it became public knowledge. This could have
resulted in fixing the problem or recalling the tyres. However, government intervention led to a loss of
credibility and reputation.
Approach 4 – Interactivity: The fourth approach in dealing with stakeholders is the interactive mode
that entails active involvement with the stakeholder groups that can influence the future of the
If the organisation had good two-way communication with their stakeholders, they would have identified
the problem in its early stages. Even more effective would have been to follow a partnership approach
with stakeholders. Partnering would have involved the affected customers, dealers or government in the
problem-solving and decision-making processes of the company with regards to the defective tyres. A
partnering approach could have strengthened relationships with stakeholders, rather than antagonising
SET COMMUNICATION FRAMEWORK
During the formulation of deliberate and emergent strategy in Steps 1 and 3, only broad communication
goals are set, indicating the desired future outcome (mini vision) for communication interventions.
In this step in the Communication Strategy (Step 4) an opportunity is provided to indicate which
communication plans will be developed around each of the goals. This framework for all the
communication plans visibly demonstrates the link to strategy while at the same time enables budgeting.
It is the point of departure for the communication planning phase to be discussed in the next plan type:
Communication Plan (CP).
View an example of a Communication Framework.
SET COMMUNICATION BUDGETS
SET EVALUATION METHODOLOGY
Measuring the value of Communication Management
In September 2004, in what has been labelled as “the largest and most comprehensive survey of the PR
profession ever attempted” (Benchpoint Intelligent Measurement, 2004), 69% of 1040 respondents from
25 countries said they measure the effectiveness of what they do. 77% of those who do not currently
engage in any form of measurement stated they plan to do so in future. Those spearheading the move
towards increased measurement were no other than the Board of Directors and CEOs of the surveyed
In the same study, 88% of all respondents said they would be interested in the development of a
Return-on-Investment (ROI) tool. The possibility to substantiate the value of communication with
numbers is a compelling thought for practitioners. In both the USA and Europe much has been published
on the elusive ROI case for public relations and communication management.
The common thread that runs through discussions on measurement and evaluation appears to be the
question of accountability. Well-managed organisations that are accountable to their shareholders,
members or taxpayers, view expenditure on Communication, Marketing and Human Resources as an
investment. As such, these functions should yield a ROI.
From the perspective of senior management and shareholders, the most desired and attractive form of
ROI has always been a direct monetary return demonstrated in increased sales, share price, market
share or increased membership, sponsorship, funding and other financial criteria. Given these criteria,
some management disciplines such as the Communication function preferred to think about themselves
as “intangible” and therefore, not subject to ROI expectations.
However, mounting pressure for increased accountability and the robust shift towards triple bottom line
performance not only introduced new forms of ROI measurement, but extended the ROI criteria beyond
the financial bottom line. Systems such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or Key Results Areas
(KRAs), Benchmarking and Balanced Score Cards used widely by organisations, are no longer concerned
with financial results only. Sound social and environmental performance is becoming prerequisites to
obtain and maintain a „licence to operate‟.
Intangible assets of organisations such as intellectual capital, customer satisfaction and loyalty,
corporate reputation, positive stakeholder relations, employee satisfaction and loyalty, and corporate
culture are now estimated to account for 70% of an organisation‟s worth. For some companies, the
estimation is even higher.
The current concept of bottom-line, a 15th century method of accounting for an organisation‟s tangible
assets (land, buildings machinery, raw materials, an inventory of finished products, capital etc.) cannot
recognise intangible assets or, for that matter, the contribution of any function towards intangible assets.
If growth and prosperity in present-day business no longer depend on financial performance alone, and if
value creation in the new economy is fuelled less by physical or tangible assets and more by intangible
assets, then clearly delivery on Reputation Risk Management, Corporate Social Responsibility and
Stakeholder Relationship Management resides within the core of this „new ROI criteria‟.
This argument does not only make the evaluation of a Communication Function possible, it puts building
a ROI case through the systematic accumulation of measurement results well within the reach of users of
this software system.
The comPro Performance Measurement System
Borrowing from thought leaders on communication measurement and evaluation, a performance
measurement system has been developed consisting of a generic framework for evaluation that can be
customised for an organisation‟s strategic intent, own context or specific organisational needs.
The system asks of the user to choose from a list of metrics and methods to evaluate (1) effectiveness
and (2) efficiency on three levels:
Level 1: Evaluating communication activities, products and events (against pre-specified
Level 2: Evaluating communication plans, programmes and campaigns (against objectives).
Level 3: Evaluation the communication strategy (against goals).
The primary aim of the performance measurement management system is continuous improvement and
organisational learning through constant feedback. Involvement of all practitioners is important and
therefore the system is designed to be accessible, transparent and easy to understand and use. There
are three critical principles:
Principle 1: Evaluation is not research
Some of the main reasons offered for the lack of communication evaluation are „lack of research budget‟,
„lack of time to do research’ and „lacking research skills‟ suggesting some kind of confusion between
research and evaluation. Evaluation does not equate formal research. There are many evaluation
techniques such as self-assessment, peer group ratings and one-on-one client or management feedback
that can fairly, and easily, be applied without any formal research.
While the importance of formal, structured research is not to be debated, it is not evaluation per se. If
measurement and evaluation can only take place when research is possible, ROI will forever be elusive.
Research is a strategic tool that feeds into planning, implementation and evaluation and a valid and
reliable tool it can indeed be.
Measurement and evaluation on the other hand is a management process, not a once-off or bi-annual
project. In the absence of a research budget or time, measurement and evaluation should still carry on.
Principle 2: Evaluation is an ongoing, systematic process
By evaluating activities, plans and strategies in a continuous, integrated and systematic process, and by
using a range of formal and informal methods, evaluation can be more strategic and valuable to
management. Instead of attempting one large research project when money and time is available, „lots
of little bits of evaluation‟ make the process more valuable, manageable and cost effective.
Principle 3: Evaluation is a forward looking activity
The reason we systematically measure everything boils down to reducing uncertainties, improving
effectiveness, and enhancing decisions. The purpose and focus of evaluation is learning to improve future
performance. Naturally the collection of historical data is an essential prerequisite, but when perceived
simply as looking back to judge past performance, evaluation can be threatening. When used as a
process to gather information in order to advise management and contribute to the cycle of continuous
improvement, measurement and evaluation are much more constructive. Practitioners may feel
uncomfortable if they have the perception that they are being “judged” by their immediate managers,
but seldom object to having a process measured by a tool. This shift in focus to see evaluation as a
forward looking activity is important to resolve the „fear of being evaluated‟ which has kept many
communication practitioners from embracing evaluation more enthusiastically.
Levels of evaluation
A question often asked is “Why „setting an evaluation methodology‟ should be part of planning?” The
answer to this question lies in the essence of strategic alignment.
Strategic alignment is a process whereby the imperatives in the organisation‟s top-level strategies (e.g.
Enterprise and Corporate strategy) are translated into a functional strategy (e.g. Communication
strategy). Consecutively, the functional strategy is deployed into cascading levels of planning and
implementation. The number of levels in the planning system is of little importance as long as every
subsequent plan, project, programme or activity is in line with the strategic intent.
In the process of strategic alignment, planning is „rolled down‟ and evaluation is „rolled up‟ along the
same strategic line.
Therefore strategy development and planning are integral parts of the performance measurement
system. The evaluation process to measure the success of a Communication function cannot be initiated
at the end of the financial or calendar year, or even half way through. The measurement criteria must be
built into the strategy development and planning.
Without „something to measure against‟, measurement provides results in isolation, with little or no value
for evaluation. Measurement becomes evaluation only when compared to a specific norm such as a
communication goal, objective, target, or deliverable. The yardstick for performance measurement will
always be imbedded in the communication function‟s planning architecture.
Metrics and Methods
The first step in evaluation is to determine „what‟ to measure? The strong emphasis in existing literature
on measurement techniques, methods and tools is concerning, as too much energy is spent on
discussing the „how to‟ of communication measurement instead of focusing on the „what‟ that should be
measured. All too often, instead of conceptualising the „what‟ of measurement, practitioners seem to be
locked in discussions on the merits of focus groups, media content analysis and opinion surveys, or
defending the objectivity and randomness or timing of methodologies deployed. The „what‟ to measure in
communication evaluation is referred to as metrics. Metrics are therefore the various constructs (things)
that are to be measured.
View list of metrics.
Methods, on the other hand, describe the „how to‟ (techniques) of communication measurement. In most
cases the „how to‟ of communication measurement involves „asking the relevant stakeholders‟, be it with
a focus group, or survey, or interview.
View list of methods.
To set realistic metrics, communication practitioners need lots of common sense and at least an
elementary understanding of communication theory. Measuring intangible assets like corporate
reputation, brand equity, relationships and corporate citizenship is not an easy task. Clustered within
terms such as reputation and relationships are many different, more basic constructs like loyalty, trust,
satisfaction, faith and admiration. We need to understand what we want to measure before we can ask.
Ill-conceived assumptions about what communication can achieve sometimes lead to misguided and
overly optimistic goals that make evaluation risky and problematic.
This is best achieved with a conceptual construct that displays the full „what‟ of measurement in a
framework (Likely, 2000:24). The „how‟ (techniques of measurement) is an operational matter, for which
external advice can be sought.
Level 3 Evaluation
The third level of evaluation, planned in this step of the Communication strategy, measures the
performance of the function against its set strategic goals in the longer term. Usually these measures
cannot be linked to one specific activity or plan, but relates to the collective performance of the function
over time. Movement on indicators such as reputational value and relationship health is a consequence of
the value created by Communication Management over a longer period of time. It therefore is known as
the measurement of „outgrowths‟ or the cumulative effects of the performance of Communication
Management on the previous two levels (activities and plans).
Measurement of the Communication function‟s effectiveness is critical to link its performance with
organisational goal achievement. The majority of communication goals do not directly contribute to
increased market penetration, market share, sales and ultimately profitability (the bottom line).
Communication Management is often called upon to influence areas important to long-term sustainable
success such as key stakeholders‟ perceptions of the organisation. If a communication goal was set in a
„straight strategic line‟ with an organisational goal, then achieving that communication goal will positively
impact on achievement of the organisational goal – thereby contributing to the new ROI criteria or triple
bottom line. Accordingly, the contribution of Communication Management must be measured in more
than direct monetary returns, even in financially–orientated public and private companies.
View an example of selected metrics and methods for measuring effectiveness.
Efficiency metrics comprise the areas in which top management would like to see improvement of the
overall management (time, cost and quality) of the function. Metrics can include process improvements,
productivity improvements, cost containment or people development – culminating in a process of
View an example of selected metrics and methods for measuring efficiency.
GENERATE COMMUNICATION PLANS
The strategic intent articulated in the Communication Strategy (CS) cascades into a combination of
Communication Plans, created in Step 4 of the CS. The number of Communication Plans is of little
importance as long as every subsequent plan, project, programme or activity is in line with the function‟s
Generating these Communication Plans release the needed planning vehicles for teams in the
Communication function to plan exactly how communication goals will be achieved. Once generated, a
Communication Plan becomes part of the list of plans in the software system. Properties defined in the
Communication Strategy for each of the intended Communication Plans (e.g. descriptions,
communication goals, planning horizons, and responsible people) will feed automatically through to the
new Communication Plan.
This feature of the software enables strategic alignment between the functional strategy of a
Communication division and its subsequent planning activities.