SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. One of the best things that you can do for your PR measurement program is to set SMART objectives because following this path is not just a great way to measure, it also helps to mentally train those involved in your firm’s communications department to think along these lines when suggesting PR ideas and strategy. Of course, the very first step—one that precedes setting SMART objectives—is to make sure that internally everyone is aligned.
Setting objectives for a PR or communications program is the necessary outgrowth of tying PR work to business goals. It’s the best way to clearly delineate PR work from other concurrent activities, such as advertising or marketing that will likely be going on at the same time in many organizations.
Let’s break each of these categories down, and then look at how a PR objective can incorporate each into a clear, succinct statement.
Specific – Being specific about objectives can be a little bit scary because once you zero in on a specific goal, it’s easier to determine if you achieved the goal or not. Take, for example, the vague goal of “securing media coverage for a new product launch.” With a goal that broad, there’s a ton of leeway in determining what “success” is—whether you land a blog post on a local forum or a piece on the home page of the New York Times about the product launch, you’ve technically “secured media coverage” with either one. Clearly, though, they are not the same.
Specific goals force communicators to focus on what they are hoping to accomplish, and they require PR teams to really think about what success for a measurement program looks like.
Measurable – Ensuring that your objectives are actually something that can be measured is essential. Having vague, squishy, or abstract objectives is frustrating and in the end, there’s nothing to point to that can show anything concrete.
The good news is that even things that seem vague like “increase awareness” can be measured. You might need to include experts, because some data points may require complex mechanisms to measure accurately. This means that budget considerations can come into play when selecting your evaluation method since well-designed and professionally executed surveys will be key to collecting accurate data.
Designing objectives that are measurable can often require you to take budget into account, and this is where working with a trusted measurement partner can really yield dividends. If you are looking to measure an aspect of PR work that you haven’t reported on before, ask your monitoring service provider for suggestions. They are likely to have solutions and ideas.
Achievable (or Attainable) – Almost every PR person or communicator I know has a story that goes something like this: A client or company executive comes to the communicator expressing a desire to develop a PR outreach strategy that highlights a program, product, or message. When asked where they think this story should be pitched, the response is inevitably something along the lines of “the New York Times,” “The Wall Street Journal,” or, back in the day, “this should be on Oprah.”
There’s nothing wrong with swinging for the fences, but setting achievable goals is critical. A label refresh isn’t going to hit the front page of the New York Times unless something goes horribly wrong (that’s the story—something going wrong).
Achievable means thinking about your program goals in context. That means setting goals that make sense for the task at hand. Whether that means being realistic about where and how much coverage you hope to secure, how quickly the objectives you establish can be achieved, or how much revenue you can anticipate will be generated by PR, setting goals that are attainable is about capturing data that matters.
Relevant – Setting objectives that are relevant seems like a no-brainer, but the question frequently is “relevant to what, exactly?” First, relevance must be tied with business goals. If an objective for a PR program isn’t relevant to the firm’s business goals, it’s probably not worth measuring. Second, the objectives must be relevant to what PR does, because if you design an objective that is relevant to business goals but is NOT a function of PR, you’ve created two problems: one, you’re measuring something over which you have no real control; and two, you’ve introduced an irrelevant metric into your PR program. An example of this is the much-derided ad value equivalency (AVE) metric. Using advertising values to measure PR performance
Timely (or Time-bound) – Timely, or Time-bound objectives are governed by the logic that having open-ended timelines for objectives can render them a bit meaningless. The point of measuring the effectiveness of a PR program is to provide information to the organization about what works and what doesn’t, and to have the data available to adjust programs going forward. In other words, a big reason that we measure is to adjust and make changes—so having an endpoint for a clearly stated objective is necessary.
Tying these elements together for a cohesive objective
A clearly defined SMART objective ticks each of the above boxes. For example, a manufacturing client might have expanding into a new region as a business goal. The PR strategy that supports that goal would include outreach to key stakeholders in the region. And the SMART PR objective would be “to build local support and secure commitments for a new manufacturing facility from 20-30 key stakeholders within 5 months.” The SMART objective for a public affairs program might be “identify 45 local officials willing to write letters to their Member of Congress by the end of the month.” These objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. At the end of the time period specified, the objectives will either be met, exceeded, or possibly fall short. It will then be possible to regroup and take next steps.