British Intelligence: Building a Consistent Measurement Approach in the U.K.

March 2, 2015

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My wife is an Anglophile. Anytime there is a British murder mystery series, a Dame Judi Dench show or even a “Top Gear” marathon on TV, that’s what’s playing in our home. And until recently, I have to admit to looking askance at this. After all, about 240 years ago, we told the British to take a hike and they eventually went home.

Earlier this year, I found myself at the United Kingdom Cabinet Office wondering if we might be better off if we were still a colony — at least from a measurement perspective.

I was asked to join the U.K. Government Communication Evaluation Council, and this was my first meeting. I may have been the only agency guy and American on the Council, but I came away impressed. The Council’s purpose is to provide perspective about how well U.K. government agencies are building measurement into their communications programs. There were members from external organizations such as Google, eBay and Prime Research, as well as leaders from several government departments, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. (By the way, why doesn’t our IRS have a name like this?)

Alex Aiken, executive director of government communications, led the charge. He is the kind of guy who impresses you with his incredible energy and dedication — not to mention his smarts. And he has a 10 Downing Street email address, which is pretty cool too. 

Alex has built a consistent measurement approach from objective setting through scoring across outputs, outtakes and outcomes that all U.K. departments are adopting. He created a performance framework, which is largely based on the Barcelona Principles and the AMEC Valid Metrics and tracks adoption with quarterly progress reports.

Communications initiatives

The first item on the meeting’s agenda was to review how the departments are performing across key communications initiatives based on Q2 and Q3 results. The data was mostly self-reported, although Alex and his team made site visits.

Admittedly, the downside of self-reporting is that the results are perhaps a bit rosier than what actually may be true. It’s either that, or the U.K. government has solved many things better than most governments — from Ebola, to Syria, to fraud, to transportation infrastructure. However, what I found extraordinary about the process was the consistency, the adoption of a common lexicon and the alignment around how communications measurement should be done across the entire government.

Communications measurement presentations from two departments, the Department of the Environment and Climate Change and the National Health Service, came next. This is when I truly began to wonder if colonialism was not such a bad idea.

In the United States, half of our politicians don’t even admit that there is such a thing as climate change. In the U.K., they have an entire department dedicated to it. And while this country is in a continuous uproar about ObamaCare, the British seem to have resolved the national health care issue.

Global consistency

After reviewing the two departments’ presentations, I saw a true dedication to doing measurement right and noticed some of the issues we see with clients around the world. However, whether it is social media or attitudinal or behavioral change, what the U.K. measures is consistent with what many major global brands are attempting with varying success.

I can’t say that this experience with the U.K. Cabinet Office has necessarily made me more excited about my bride’s television choices. But I do see that there is an opportunity to learn from across the pond.


And, now a question from astute reader, Jonathan McGrain:

“I would like to see one live example or case study of a company that successfully implemented a metrics system: what were the actual activities or results someone chose to measure and how did they collect and present the data?” 

There are plenty. Some I personally know well include: Philips, MasterCard, IKEA, Cleveland Clinic, UNICEF, FedEx, ConAgra and Haagen Dazs. Another great way to find examples is by looking at PRSA’s Silver Anvil or AMEC’s measurement award winners, which you can find on their websites.

And, certainly, any measurement conference such as Ragan’s PR Measurement Conference in Washington on March 12, or AMEC’s Summit in Stockholm in early June will feature great examples. What they all have in common is that they first set goals before they develop their measurement programs.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA in 2017, but continues as part-time chairman. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton, who recently retired from CBS News, have also started their own research and consulting firm to work with Ketchum and other clients at rocklanddutton.com.

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