Objectives and the spirit of econometrics

About the author

Paul Noble FCIPR is co-author of Evaluating Public Relations and has contributed the research and evaluation chapter in Exploring Public Relations.

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay
Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

There is one challenge associated with objective setting that many of us creep around without engaging with it.

The challenge is that however careful we are to employ communications best practice, there remains one nagging doubt. I call this ‘Why did the dog eat the dog food?’ This is based on an imaginary situation where we manage the PR and communications for a market-leading dog food manufacturer. And our dog food is flying off the shelves to the extent that we are struggling to satisfy demand.

However, the big question is: why? Why this sudden increase? When you wake up in the middle of the night, you quietly whisper to yourself : ‘Is it anything at all to do with what I’ve done?’ It could be that your main competitor has a contamination scare and has withdrawn all its products from sale. It could be that your marketing colleagues have dreamt up a promotion beyond compare. Or was it your success in recruiting celebrity dog owners as ambassadors for your brand?

There is a simple solution. Your current partner/spouse might be a bit upset but all you need to do is to marry an Econometrician.

What econometrics does is to establish what would have happened if you hadn’t injected your communications/PR input. You will then know what effect your campaign has had.

It’s worth a try, but on reflection youre quite fond of your current partner and feel that dumping him/her to hitch up with a passing economist is a bit extreme. So, what’s the way forward? It’s what I call the spirit of econometrics and is best explained by another ‘thought experiment’ – with apologies to Albert Einstein.

Imagine that we are now working for the Highways Agency. There’s a problem with the A6 trunk road between Kendal and Penrith (or any other random pair of towns): there are too many serious accidents involving motorbikes. The Agency decides to do two things: the engineering department is asked to make the road safer by, for example, reducing speed limits and improving visibility at junctions. In parallel, we are asked to launch a ‘think bike’ awareness campaign in the local area, so car drivers are less likely to mow down the occasional motorcycle.

Twelve months on and there’s good news. Before the problem was addressed, on average there were 25 serious motorbike accidents a year. In the year just gone, the figure is 14. But is this down to the PR campaign? We talk to the engineers and ask them that given the improvements they made what sort of reduction does their experience tell them they would expect. The answer is five so we feel justified in ‘claiming’ the other six for our communications efforts. You could go one step further get some data for the NHS on the cost of serious accidents/injuries; now you could put a monetary figure on the success of your campaign – real ROI appears on the horizon!

If you want some more statistical rigour to underpin your approach to the spirit of econometrics (and try to impress your new partner), you will want to get to grips with the two Cs: correlations and causation. An example of a correlation might be the relationship between Share of Voice and Sales Leads. This example is used by Angela Jeffrey (Appendix D, p28) https://instituteforpr.org/social-media-measurement-a-step-by-step-approach/

In parallel, in the taxonomy that supports AMEC’s Integrated Evaluation Framework, Professor Jim Macnamara talks about causation. He states: ‘The three key rules of causation must be applied: (a) the alleged cause must precede the alleged effect/impact; (b) there must be a clear relationship between the alleged cause and effect (eg there must be evidence that the audience accessed and used information you provided); and (c) other possible causes must be ruled out as far as possible.https://amecorg.com/amecframework/home/supporting-material/taxonomy/

For another perspective on the question of attribution, see this #amecmm article on PR Place Insights.