Measuring success in Public Affairs

Know what happens to a marketer whose big programme does not result in a rise in sales? They’re in trouble. They may very well lose their job. What happens if a PA professional’s big programme still results in overwhelming loss in that ultimate of KPIs i.e. the outcome of the regulatory issue it’s trying to affect? Nothing much, in many cases (but not all cases, by any means).

Why the disparity? Because a marketing programme needs to fit into a neat sales funnel that lists all activities ultimately leading to the sale, and each activity is eminently measurable. If something is clogging the funnel, which then results in fewer sales than expected, it’s easy to detect exactly where the fault lies. There’s no PA equivalent of the sales funnel, however.

Result? In some cases, PA professionals can get away with not succeeding because:

  1. Often, the activities they conduct aren’t linked to ultimate success due to the lack of a funnel, so their achievement is often measured in fairly subjective terms, usually based on output. Lobbyist X is great, in just 3 months he/she got us meetings with 12 MEPs and high-level officials, produced 4 position papers which our board thought were great, and hosted an event which 3 journalists came to!”
  2. If a marketer doesn’t sell, there’s nowhere to hide, yet the PA pro has more pretexts: the public fell for the NGO narrative and politicians felt compelled to support their position; the media misrepresented us; we only had 3 months and so only met with 12 MEPs and high-level officials and wrote 4 position papers (as if to say if the bastards had given us 6 months, we’d have had 24 meetings and published 8 position papers: that would have done the trick!)

What’s the solution? Not a PA funnel that’s quite as neat as a sales funnel, because frankly, we PA pros have a valid point regarding the number of variables that affect regulatory outcomes. You can be brilliant and on the right side of an issue and still lose due to any number of factors. A brilliant marketer will usually get it right (assuming the product isn’t a dud).

However, output should never be a measure of success. The fact that it is, helps explain why some PA activity is poor. I see it all the time in digital, for instance. God-awful websites, excruciating videos, social media outreach that reaches no-one other than 12 spammers. And yet the programme is deemed a success because it ticked the website, video and social media boxes.

So step one to bridging the gap to more accountable communications disciplines like marketing is to produce indicative KPIs which connect output to success more cogently:

  • As a result of our meeting, MEP X tabled an amendment that supported our position (which, in truth, most tend to measure already, albeit not as part of a clearly defined measurement dashboard incorporating a number of KPIs).
  • As a result of our social media outreach, we built a coalition in country X and shifted a constituency into our camp, resulting in MEPs supporting our position.
  • As a result of our position paper, we were able to get meetings with 8 perm reps, which subsequently shifted Council’s position in our favour as measured by ABC.

It’s by no means an easy (or entirely scientific) exercise to extend this across far more PA activities (the sample KPIs above, for instance, require plenty of work). Yet I’m sure more specific metrics can be developed, which would ultimately make PA pros and their output more accountable, resulting in less bad PA and presumably more success in terms of affecting regulatory outcomes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: