Looking for a Public Relations Agency? Use our Free matching service to find the right agency for you.

User login

Ten Tips on Setting the Right Communication KPIs

“Did everyone know this was a discussion about evaluation?!” This was the question Hotwire’s Darryl Sparey asked the audience at the recent PRCA Evaluation Group Quarterly meeting held at Ketchum’s offices on the South Bank.  More than 80 professionals packed the room to hear from a highly qualified panel of experts discuss the complexities of setting the right KPIs.

Originally intended as a hybrid panel and workshop session, the evening had to ‘pivot’ into a panel discussion due to the high attendance numbers. A clear case of the Evaluation Group exceeding its own attendance KPIs for the event. Unsurprisingly, each of the panel members harboured strong views on what constitutes best practice in setting KPIs and each had a good selection of tips and advice for the audience.

Annabel Dunstan, Chief Insights Officer and Co-Founder of Question and Retain (Q&R) opened proceedings with a summary of a quick poll taken amongst those who’d RSVP’d to the event. Using Q&R’s online platform, the PRCA Pulse survey results indicated that 57% of respondents either find setting KPIs “not straightforward” (43% - by far the largest response) or generally don’t set them at all (14%).  

Using this poll as a backdrop, Annabel drew upon her previous life as MD of Three Monkeys by highlighting her philosophy around KPIs – “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Moving onto definitions around KPIs – Annabel posited that ‘A Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is a measurable value that exhibits how effectively an organisation achieves its strategic objectives. Essentially, an effective KPI is an actionable metric that keeps your strategy on track. Organisations use KPIs to efficiently manage, control, and achieve desired business targets.’

Hotwire’s UK Director, Darryl Sparey, deconstructed the acronym so as to highlight a number of considerations that must be taken into account when setting effective KPIs. Sparey outlined the importance of setting the right ‘Key’ metrics that focus the attention of senior leadership on the impact of communications.  The ‘Performance’ component of the acronym informs whether a campaign is working while ‘Indicator’ element highlights the sometimes uncomfortable truth that metrics may indicate success but they may not be the only factor behind a specific campaign outcome.

Practical advice came from Mark Carrier, Research & Development Director at Kantar who highlighted two key challenges in choosing the right KPIs and metrics for any campaign. First and foremost, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the client’s overall business objectives. Aligning to business outcomes is the surest way of capturing the attention of senior executives outside of the communications function.  And to do this, it’s critical to find the right starting point. In other words, always set a benchmark and use that data to track progress to target KPIs and overall goals. 

Possibly the most ‘heated’ part of the evening came when the panel was asked about attribution. This seemed to be the biggest challenge facing the audience and is indeed a barrier in the measurement of communications debate. Lou Such of Frank PR probed for robust attribution models citing campaigns where a mix of marketing and communications programmes are employed. Hotwire’s Darryl Sparey put forward a percentage based approach that leaned heavily on post rationalising the impact of communications as a driver of the outcome. The panel agreed that employing digital metrics makes for much more straightforward outcome measurement and that when setting KPIs, factors such as marketing programmes that lie outside of the control of the comms team, must be taken into account when setting suitable metrics so as to minimise the attribution debate.

In summary, the panel offered up a number of recommendations and top tips to consider when developing KPIs:   

1.       Always start with a clear understanding of what the business needs the communication function to achieve – don’t rely on the outdated belief that media clips are everything

2.       Select KPI specifically for an individual program to ensure that they are relevant and will provide meaningful feedback on the programme. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to KPIs

3.       Don’t overlook the EQ (emotional intelligence) component of your work – avoid getting tunnel vision – remember to establish what people feel about the campaign.  Ensure you capture qualitative data as well as the quantitative

4.       Use the most relevant metrics that best fit with your measurement program. Better to evaluate more metrics (as long as they are relevant!) than less in order to capture a range of useful data points – you can only measure once so you don’t want to miss the opportunity

5.       Involve key stakeholders in the development of your KPIs so as to start the campaign with a true shared agenda of what success will look like

6.       Set or obtain benchmarks so you have a baseline for measuring improvements and tracking progress over time.

7.       Embrace data and make Google Analytics your best friend. There’s a wealth of opportunity to demonstrate outcomes and to support attribution by analysing web traffic

8.       Use the multitude of tools that are available to gather data and insights in order to measure KPIs. Much work has been done to catalogue both free and paid for tools and platforms– visit for inspiration

9.       Visit the AMEC website for guidance on the measurement framework, which provides details of methods of evaluation and which metrics/ KPIs to use

10.   Great KPIs – so long as they are met – win awards. The industry is constantly seeking evidence of outstanding work and so putting time and effort into setting the right KIPs pays off for all involved

The future’s bright

I have spent the past ten years obsessing about measurement and on pushing the evaluation agenda across our agency and with clients. Sadly too many professionals sigh when the topic of measurement comes up and there is an insidious element of debate fatigue and cynicism around the topic. Anyone who harbours this attitude today however should reconsider and just look around at the work being done by so many individuals and professional organisations such as the PRCA and AMEC. There is no good reason why PR cannot report back on its impact and the outcomes it delivers. AI is creeping into media analysis, data analytics and data visualisation techniques are now mainstream and if we’re talking digital, then there is a plethora of tools to measure performance and, ultimately, the impact the work we do has on our clients and for the companies we work for.  For these reasons, I’d suggest there’s never been a better time to be in PR and communications.