Are people more aware of the importance of eye, organ and tissue donation because the eye bank had a booth at a health fair? If so, how many people? Did they take the step of signing up to be a donor? How do you know if a public relations campaign or education tactic did any good? These are the kinds of questions every public relations department is faced with answering, particularly in harder economic times when budgets must be justified.
While the public and professional relations department at the Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank has always applied a strict, science-based methodology to its programs, it solidified those best practices today by formally adopting a set of standards known as the Barcelona Principles. The principles are a set of guidelines for public relations and communications professionals that focus on measuring what matters most: outcomes. Leaders of the most prestigious public relations organizations developed the guidelines, including the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, the Institute for Public Relations, the Public Relations Society of America, the International Communications Consultancy Organization, and the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management.
Robert Austin, APR, the eye bank’s manager of public and professional relations, said the principles would be a big leap for many but not for RMLEB. “Probably the hardest part of this system for many in our profession is moving away from the mindset that more is always better — or that the more activity there is, the better the results,” Austin said. “That isn’t necessarily so.”
Austin points to traditional measurements such as the number of news articles that appeared because of a campaign or the number of people who attended an event. “It’s easy to say that we have X number of Facebook fans, so therefore we must be successful. Likewise, many fall into the trap of thinking that because 50 news articles were written about the subject, an impact was made. The problem is that those are not outcomes; they are outputs.”
While the principles focus on measurement, they rely on a scientific method of setting objectives in the first place to be successful. Austin pointed out that those traditional measurements are fine if the objective is to get people to like a page or to show up at an event, but RMLEB wants people to take action and change behaviors. The Barcelona Principles demand that companies prove that they’ve done that. It begins with setting good objectives.
“Many in the donation and transplantation world have traditionally set objectives first,” Austin said. “Getting people to sign up to be a donor is a great example of that kind of objective. We can go out and ask people to become donors, but a better approach is to do research to find out why they aren’t and make our objective to change that thinking.” Yet, too often, the science stops there.
Studies done six years ago found that most people in Colorado don’t sign up to be donors because they think they aren’t healthy enough, are too old or live a lifestyle that prevents them from being a good donor. The logical conclusion is that campaigns should tell people with those concerns they can sign up despite those concerns. “The problem has been research wasn’t done to find out if simply telling them this will make them do it,” Austin explained.
To find out, the eye bank conducted focus groups to hone the messaging. The result was a new campaign that, at first glance had a positive impact on the number of people who signed up to be a donor in Wyoming. That campaign is still undergoing evaluation to see if a trend will hold, but Austin noted that applying the Barcelona Principles to measuring the outcomes would help refine and change the campaign. For example, the eye bank is preparing to modify the Wyoming campaign to incorporate ideas reinforced by studies in sociology and advice from the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center.
“Public relations professionals like to say that what we do is an art form — and we have one of the most creative teams in the business — but we firmly believe our profession must be both creative and scientifically sound. These principles help us stay focused on that, which helps us not be self-congratulatory for doing a lot of activity without being able to definitively say what good it did.”