Overcoming the Measurement Deadlock

Ansgar Zerfass

Across Europe, only a bit higher than one out of four communication practitioners re-ports high competencies when it comes to calculating reputation or brand value.

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Corporate communication supports organizational goals in multiple ways. Professionals should be able to present compelling data about these impacts.

However, measurement skills as well as the implementation of evaluation methods and the strategic utilization of such insights are still in a nascent stage across Europe. Several ap-proaches are necessary to break the deadlock.

Effectiveness and efficiency are keys for success in the corporate world. Measurement and evaluation, in turn, are necessary to understand whether current practices substantiate these claims, identify needs for improvement, and report about results and impact.

Keys for success

This basic principle has long been neglected in corporate communication. Oftentimes, evalua-tion is limited to counting press clippings, visitor at events or on websites, and similar tracking activities.

However, previous findings indicate that the challenge is more complex and three-fold:

  • firstly, communication professionals have to develop adequate measurement knowledge and skills;
  • secondly, communication departments have to measure their activities and interactions with stakeholders in a holistic sense; and
  • finally, they have to use evaluation insights in a proper way to advance future activi-ties.

The study at hand focused on all three aspects. A quantitative online survey of senior commu-nication professionals working in communication departments of companies, non-profits, and governmental organisations was used to gather data in spring 2015.The final sample com-prised 1,601 respondents based in 40 European countries.

Measurement skills

A crucial prerequisite to conduct valid measurement is the personal expertise of communica-tion staff.

Across Europe, only a minority of the surveyed practitioners report high competencies when it comes to calculating reputation or brand value (26.4%) or constructing communication score-cards (32.0%).

However, precisely these skills are necessary if practitioners attempt to prove organisational impact of their communication activities.

In contrast, the highest ranked skill level was for compiling and interpreting data (53.9%), which is a basic prerequisite for any manager.

Lack of expertise

In view of the lack of expertise, it is not surprising that only 35.5% of the surveyed organisa-tions focus on evaluating the impact of communication on creating intangible or tangible value for their organisation.

The table shows that communication measurement is still heavily based on monitoring outputs. Most organisations document media clippings and the reach of online communication.

But without measuring the input (costs) and impact (consequences for organisational goals), it remains impossible to prove the effectiveness and efficiency of corporate communication.

How we measure effectiveness of PR

Clippings and media response


Internet/Intranet Use


Financial costs for projects


Satisfaction of (internal) clients


Understanding of key messages


Stakeholder attitudes and behavior change


Personnel costs for projects


Process quality


Impact on financial/strategic targets


Impact on intangible/ tangible resources


Q: Which items are monitored or measured by your organisation to assess the effectiveness of communication management / public relations? A: 1 never – 5 always (5-point Likert scale). Scalepoints 4-5 considered for each statement. Respondents: = 1,496 communication profes-sionals working in communication departments in Europe.

Power of data

Evaluation data can inform planning processes and help to adjust both communication strate-gies and the overall positioning of the corporation. To this end, evaluation insights have to be fully integrated into the communication management process.

Sadly, most European organisations miss this opportunity. A majority utilizes insights primari-ly for evaluating the success of communication activities in (66.0%), while only 43.3% use data for leading communication teams or steering agencies.

And only six out of ten departments utilise the power of data to explain the value of commu-nication to their board or other top executives.

Challenges for communication leaders

In order to break the deadlock identified in this study, the personal evaluation skills of com-munication professionals need to be advanced.

Leaders should ensure that their communication staff receives robust training in social science research techniques, and above all, know how to use sophisticated valuation methods and management concepts like scorecards, quality management, and cost accounting.

Secondly, evaluation in communication departments must focus on all phases of the commu-nication process. Communication leaders have to acquire a full comprehension of how the en-tirety of communication effects are interrelated, and of the large number of measurement methods available today.

Finally, evaluation data must be exploited more strategically, i.e. for managing future commu-nication activities and informing overall organizational decision-making.

This requires a desire to design the future of the company and influence strategic decisions at large – which is much more than administering communication in a professional way.


Text: Professor Dr. Ansgar Zerfass and Sophia Charlotte Volk


  • Zerfass, A., Verčič, D., & Volk, S. C., Communication evaluation and measurement: Skills, practices and utilization in European organizations. The paper was presented at the 19th An-nual International Public Relations Research Conference, Miami, Florida, USA, in March 2016. It received a Institute for Public Relations Top Paper Award and the Koichi Yamamura International Strategic Communication Award for the best paper on international strategic communication.

This article is published in Communication for Leaders No. 1 - 2016. 

Communication for Leaders is a Science Communication Magazine published by Centre for Corporate Communication and Department of Communication and Culture at BI Norwegian Business School.

Published 23. March 2017

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