You should also keep two words in mind when establishing a formal evaluation procedure: “process” and “outcome.” The process question asks, what information and what other services are being delivered and by whom? The outcome question asks, did we make a discernible difference? In other words, so what?
A day or two after each news event, you should ask all participants to think about the process involved. How were the speakers chosen? How did they do their jobs? Who could use coaching or some practice before the next interview? Was there sufficient coordination of the various messages you wanted to get across? Were there clear assignments as to who would deliver them and in what order?
In terms of outcome, you should discuss how the assembled reporters reacted and what information they used in their reports. Compare today’s results with those of the recent past. A social service coalition may find that coverage of its annual news conference, in which it reacts to the governor’s budget announcement, has dropped over the past few years because key elements of the budget were leaked in advance, allowing major portions of the story to be written ahead of time. Maybe a different approach is in order. For example, could your group hold an advance briefing on its budget recommendations a few days before the announcement?
There are some objective measures that can assist in evaluation. If you send out a press release with an e-mail address or phone number for more information, you can count the number of responses you get. If you post your press release and background materials on a Web site you can count how many page views there were of your media materials. If you have paid for a satellite uplink of a PSA for TV, you can pay extra to embed an invisible code that will permit detailed tracking of usage. A print ad that contains a clip-out coupon or a link to a Web site affords a quantifiable number of motivated responses. The number of journalists who attend a news conference or participate in a briefing by conference call is clear. In each case, there are concrete results that can be expressed in a number, and these can be applied to the evaluation process.
Even so, it is important to remember that evaluating a communications strategy is not always like evaluating a business plan, which has targets for growth in sales or market share and other easily quantifiable criteria of success. Instead, to judge the success of a communications program, you must use a variety of techniques specific to the kind of work involved.