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Measuring Impact

By: Yessenia Chavez

What is impact? In a talk to University of Iowa PRSSA members on October 9th, Chad Ruback, the Assistant VP of External Relations for the University of Iowa Healthcare, demonstrated communication barriers and defined impact in three fundamental steps: measurement, assessment and evaluation.

“There is an industry concern that [impact] in communications can’t really measure what we do,” said Ruback, the new professional advisor for UI PRSSA.  He took us through the steps to clear the barriers and to get a clear perception. At an international PRSA meeting, they were concerned that there was no way to measure success. However, after some consideration, it came down to one simple question: “Why don’t we measure what we do?”

Ruback says the problem is language. He demonstrated that language barriers could prevent effective communication.  Examining the impact of the work we do as PR professionals can help break down those barriers. Let’s break down each of these terms that apply to assessing the success of PR work:

“The reality is we really can measure what we do,” says Ruback, “It’s really a fundamental learning challenge that we all have to do.”

Ruback’s key fundamentals are:

  1. Measurement
  2. Assessment
  3. Evaluation

“We have to be accountable to these key roles,” said Ruback. These are tools that sound alike but have very different meanings.

Measurement is the process by which attributes or dimensions of something are determined. “Its an objective unit of measure.” said Ruback. Outputs are part of measurement–these units are measured in members retained in an organization: chairs rented, students graduated, registered volunteers, or tickets sales.

“Assessment adds context to what we are looking at,” said Ruback.  Assessment is important to make sure goals are being attained within an organization. “We want to observe all the trends and actions,” said Ruback.

Assessment is not to be considered an end game, and the objectives should be watched throughout the process. For example, an organization can assess the number of comments or shares on a Facebook post, or donations produced from an earned media story.

Evaluation determines the success of a PR project. For an organization to see success, the goal attainment of the project is measured.  “This is probably the most difficult one, but we make an observation,” said Ruback. “It all comes down to the attainable goal.” It is the process that produces information regarding the worthiness, validity and impact.

The outcomes are the results of the evaluation growth. The outcomes and outputs are not to be confused with each other– remember that outputs are the data produced, while outcomes can be considered as the qualities and impact of the project. For example, outcomes are the impact of services offered, goal attainment, positive or negative impressions, the engagement of a target audience, and more.

These fundamentals may seem difficult to figure out, but it’s all about simplifying. It is important to think of fundamentals as distinct ideas and methods and connect them to a strong impact. “Don’t confuse being busy with being strategic,” said Ruback.