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PR and Six Sigma: Beyond Time Sheets and Line Items

Six Sigma can be used in every business and every department within a company – even in places where many executives might not think it can apply, such as public relations.

While PR professionals focus a good deal of time and effort measuring the results of public relations campaigns, they typically spend relatively little time examining internal operations and measurements unless something goes wrong. If an agency stays within its billable hours or a department stays within its line item budget, and objectives are reached, then success is proclaimed and the team moves on to the next project.

But that is a limited view and assumes that the current way of doing things in the organization cannot be improved. Internal measurements, when done correctly, can significantly improve operations and program results. It is just as important in public relations to apply rigorous measurement standards and best practices to internal processes and operations as it is to apply them to campaigns. This is especially important for public relations agencies looking to justify and maximize the time spent on accounts and for company PR departments trying to get the most out of employees without requiring them to work extra hours.

Measuring Activity Is Not Enough

For many companies, just measuring campaign activities is not enough for senior management. Reporting that the PR team called 20 reporters, conducted a special event or secured five articles does not meet management’s needs. They want to understand what business objectives those activities accomplished. Public relations units need to apply that same measurement rigor to internal operations – going beyond timesheets and making the budget numbers or press release quotas. The objective should be to measure the true impact, not internal activities.

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It is relatively easy to measure activity and output. Unfortunately, that does not give a complete or accurate view. If organizations take the extra step of measuring the true impact, they will be surprised at how much more they can accomplish, and how much they can improve processes. There are many different schools of thought about measurement, and none of them provide a complete solution. But for internal processes, a Six Sigma approach offers a good measurement framework.

Six Sigma is a rigorous and disciplined methodology that utilizes data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance, practices and systems. The Six Sigma process, or DMAIC, is simple in its concept – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. In a nutshell, it involves looking at internal processes and finding ways to improve them that will have a direct impact on the bottom line. It is not quality for quality’s sake. It is not improving the monthly report, but rather identifying the essential elements of the report that will resonate with the C-level executives and how to do them faster, with fewer errors, so professionals can spend time on other key activities that contribute to the bottom line.

How Six Sigma’s Quantitative Measurement Can Help

Many internal areas in public relations are ripe for quantitative measurement, including:

  • Reporting
  • Media outreach
  • Internal meetings
  • Employee communications

The following examples show where a Six Sigma quality approach has been applied in two of these areas to improve operations, satisfaction and results.

Reporting: Regular reporting is essential, both for C-level executives and for agency clients. But too often, reporting is done a certain way because that is the standard style or the way it has been done in the past. By breaking down the components of reporting (creating the report, the form, editing it, etc.) and looking at the parts that are actually read, public relations professionals can better understand where their time is spent and how to streamline the process. Then they can quantify how much each step costs and the impact streamlining may have.

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By applying the Six Sigma methodology to the reporting process, one agency reduced the size of a report by 45 percent, increased the amount of the report read and saved more than 10 hours each month, which translates into budget that can be assigned elsewhere. When a client or CEO sees those figures, it is hard for them to argue.

Media outreach: Improving media outreach is not about pitching better or making the time for more focus groups, etc. It is about improving the pitching processes. For instance, conventional wisdom may steer you wrong in determining the most effective times to communicate with reporters by phone and email.

A recent project at one public relations agency found that by applying Six Sigma to help determine the best times for media contacts, 18,240 more interactions with reporters can be expected during the course of a year. All without changing the number of phone calls or emails made or the amount of staff time spent. Obviously, the added interactions will help generate more news coverage and thus significantly impact client happiness and retention.

Conclusion: Once Is Not Enough

As a profession, public relations practitioners need to not only justify what they do, but look at how they do it and provide quantitative ways to measure best practices. Measuring internal processes once, or even annually, is not enough. It is essential to look at all recurring activities regularly and find some way to quantify them that will relate to the top and bottom line and help improve overall performance. It is not always easy, and frequently there will be differences of opinion. But having a methodology in place helps structure the discussion.

By creating a framework for measuring internal processes and determining a quantitative figure for making decisions, PR professionals can put themselves in a strong position and give themselves more time to do what they love.

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