What Bill Gates and Measurement have in Common

bill gates foundation pictureWhat do Bill Gates and communications measurement have in common?

As the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates helped create an entire industry that has transformed how we do our jobs and how we live every day.

Now, through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he has also made huge strides in solving some of the world’s most difficult problems, improving the lives of millions.

In an essay based on his annual Foundation letter (The Saturday Essay, The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25, 2013), Gates discussed the importance of constant measurement in eradicating many of the world’s worst problems.

“In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition,” he wrote. “You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal.”

In particular, he wrote that clear goal setting and ongoing measurement have led to declines in child mortality, reductions in infectious and fatal diseases around the world, and improved education systems. I strongly recommend reading the entire annual Foundation letter when you have a chance.

His message is a timely reminder of the importance of goal setting and measurement in public relations.

Last fall, at the PRSA Measurement Symposium, Microsoft shared practical advice for others tackling the communications measurement problem. Rebecca Duffy, senior manager of corporate communications, offered this guidance:

  • Think about the end outcome that you are trying to drive and prioritize the measurement of that. It is not the piece of content that matters, it is the change in attitudes and behaviors that the content drives. Wherever possible, Microsoft measures the call to action in coverage and then assesses follow-through of that recommendation on the back end.
  • Break down organizational silos to get to the data you need. Communications measurement can act as a powerful unifier and bridge different business groups to unearth key insights and demonstrate outcomes that affect common objectives.Share results and ask other divisions to offer their insights so everyone has a greater business-wide understanding of objectives, results, opportunities and challenges.
  • Measure and report your outcomes in a way that your business leadership understands and cares about. Microsoft uses its communications measurement program to engage with business leadership about communications and its role in helping the business achieve its core objectives.
  • Don’t lose the fundamentals. Microsoft uses measurement as a discussion point in planning to make sure that everyone is on the same page about the goals from the beginning.
  • Consider using many tools.  If there’s a business goal that’s worth measuring, then Microsoft is committed to implementing the right tool to get to the data — and will depart from the tools they normally use, even if just for that project.  It helps them stay open to new ways of thinking that map to the changing nature of the communications business.

Duffy’s comments about communications measurement reflect the headline of Gates’ essay in the Journal:  “From the fight against polio to fixing education, what’s missing is often good measurement and a commitment to follow the data. We can do better. We have the tools in hand.”

As we learned at the Symposium, which will convene again at this year’s International Conference in Philadelphia, public relations has the ability to undertake excellent measurement programs based on clear goals linked to business objectives.

Surely if Gates can unlock the power of goal setting and measurement to help reduce childhood mortality, then PR pros can apply measurement to ensure that our profession is aligned to improving business and organizational performance.

Note: this post first appeared on PRSA.org.

About David Rockland

David Rockland, Ph.D. is chairman of Ketchum Global Research and Analytics at Ketchum. He has held leadership positions in corporate communications and research throughout his career, with extensive global experience in both fields.