Implementation levels

The preparation, utilization and improvement of controlling methods should be embedded in a higher-order development strategy. This approach produces a comprehensive communications controlling system in a series of pragmatic, logical steps. It helps to avoid the impression that a system of indicators is being grafted on artificially, and to ensure that it is perceived as being related directly to everyday needs and experience.

Various potential starting points

Modified in the light of other proposals, the recommended procedure is multistage (see graphic). The chosen starting point must suit the particular organization and the respective baseline situation. If resources are limited, for instance, it makes sense to focus on improving existing methods. On the other hand, newly engaged heads of communication may find it more helpful to use Scorecards right from the start to structure their tasks.

Communication controlling implementation steps (A. Zerfaß 2007)

1. Optimizing existing, incomplete controlling and evaluation methods

In most organizations today, including medium-sized enterprises, communication campaigns are based on checklists. Budgets and timelines are available. The press response is evaluated on the basis of regular media monitoring (clippings, newspaper cuttings). Periodic surveys are conducted among employees, event participants or readers of the company's own publications. These approaches need to be improved on an ongoing basis, for example through the use of new technologies such as online internet surveys, which provide more rapid results at a lower cost. Methods to improve the controllability of individual phases of communication management can also be introduced. An example would be the use of pretests as a prelude to major campaigns. This raises awareness for the necessity of controlling methods and sharpens the focus on new methods and service providers in this field.

2. Integratation of methods and indicators

The next step might be to combine existing indicators in the planning, implementation and monitoring of campaigns and communication measures. For instance, the efficacy of evaluation of press reporting by media response analysis can be enhanced by targeted image surveys among key stakeholders (e.g. customers, analysts, employees). This corresponds to the state of the art in progressive corporations. With the aid of integrated evaluation systems provided by various service providers, the individual results can be aggregated to yield higher-order indicators that can be used for internal comparisons or inter-company benchmarking

3. Introducing a Strategic Target Card

The establishment of a controlling system in the strictest sense begins with the introduction of Strategic Target Cards aimed at showing the contribution of communication towards adding corporate value. These targets can be set forth in a Communication Target Card (CTC) for communication management and/or the responsible head of communication. The CTC contains the most important 15 to 20 targets for a specific period (for instance, the quarter or business year) and concerns all the above-mentioned levels of communications controlling: the infrastructure for communication management itself, and communication management strategies, programs and measures. The targets must be derived directly from the higher-level corporate strategy (examples: strengthening innovation, achieving market leadership in Asia, improve credit rating). This is the crucial difference versus the approaches commonly used in practice, as mentioned earlier: planning and evaluation are oriented not to what was hitherto common and successful in the area of public relations, internal and marketing communication, but are systematically geared towards achieving the targets of the organization as a whole. In organizations where communication tasks are performed by a number of employees, specific Communication Target Cards can be devised to reflect the special needs of particular departments or units. Each target should come with one or several indicators. The individual targets are unweighted in relation to each other. In the wake of implementation, the known and in many cases already existing methods of planning and evaluation are deployed.

4. Introduction of multidemsional control approaches and scorecards

In addition, a complete controlling system must reflect the diversity of stakeholder relationships and simultaneously identify the interactions between corporate goals, strategic communication programs and operative measures in the media mix. Multiple-perspective strategic control approaches are required here. Adaptations of Value Based Management and Corporate Communications Scorecard have proven effective in practice. Like the communication target card, they identify correlations between corporate targets and communication targets, but draw a distinction between a number of factors determining success (customer and market relations, financing, internal processes, potentials, social and political acceptance and legitimization). They also present the correlation of cause and effect between success factors, value drivers, indicators and action programs in a much more differentiated fashion, thereby enabling targeted control and evaluation. The method diversity is not necessarily increased at this level. Quite the opposite: it may be revealed that complex evaluation processes, e.g. in terms of press relations, are accorded a degree of importance that is disproportionately high in relation to the strategic importance of the respective field of action, and may hence be reduced. The individual control and evaluation methods must be adapted accordingly. Application of the system will reveal potential improvements and inspire ideas for quality enhancement at all implementation levels. 

Employee involvement as a success factor

These reflections show that successful communications controlling cannot be imposed from the top. Rather, the managers concerned must be sure to involve all employees, service providers and other concerned parties and build up the structures step by step. Another reason for this approach is because, although standardized, transparent processes enhance overall corporate performance, they are inconvenient for many people because they show up inadequacies and reward good practice. The establishment of a strategic communication controlling system will be particularly successful if a marked desire for innovation, process orientation and culture of constructive criticism are already in place in the organization, for example as a legacy of past certification and corporate identity processes. As such, the framework imposed by the respective organization culture must be taken into account.


Selected texts in German

Zerfaß, Ansgar (2008): Kommunikations-Controlling: Methoden zur Steuerung und Kontrolle der Unternehmenskommunikation. In: Meckel, Miriam/Schmid, Beat (Eds.): Unternehmenskommunikation. Kommunikationsmanagement aus Sicht der Unternehmensführung. 2nd edition. Wiesbaden: Gabler, pp 435-469.

Zerfaß, Ansgar (2006): Kommunikations-Controlling: In: Schmid, Beat/Lyczek, Boris (Eds.): Unternehmenskommunikation. Wiesbaden: Gabler, pp 431-465.

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