3 Steps To Better Objectives

What's your target? “Increase sales” isn’t a good objective.

Neither is “increase web traffic,” or “increase awareness,” or “more customers.”


Because you have no way of measuring success. If you can’t measure success, then what use is your goal?

I have to bite back a visceral reaction whenever I see vague goals in a communications plan. They’re toothless, they’re meaningless and they turn what could be a selling point for us (compelling objectives) into a waste of space. Sure, they provide a vague focus for work, but there’s no spine to them.

Let’s say your initiative – your communications; your ad campaign; your promotion – resulted in one additional customer. Is that success? Maybe if you’re Boeing or Bombardier, where one additional customer means multi-million dollar deals. If you’re McDonalds or Lays then perhaps not.

While the the kumbaya/let’s-all-get-along discussion inside the blogosphere might find that kind of objective acceptable, if you’re competing in real life with marketing/advertising agencies and other corporate departments for limited dollars, you need to be more specific and you need to talk outcomes, not outputs.

Creating better objectives

A credible goal needs to have three components:

  1. Change – What will you improve?
  2. Quantifier – How much will it improve?
  3. Deadline – When will you do it by?

A call to action

Corporate folks

If your agency walks in and says their goal is to increase your sales for next year, ask them by how much and by when.

If they say they’re going to improve your reputation online, ask them how they plan to measure that.

Let’s face it, times are tough. You need to know that you’re spending your dollars in the right areas.

Hold your agency to account.

Agency folks

Pre-empt this discussion. Walk into the room with your goals fleshed-out.

As anyone in PR knows, the end-goal effects can be hard to quantify so don’t shoot yourself in the foot and aspire to something you’ll end up not being able to prove. Use proxies.

You may not be able to directly prove sales, but you can certainly find a way to draw a line between things you can affect and the big-picture end-goal.

For example, instead of “improve your online reputation,” try something like:

Goal: Improve [brand X]’s online reputation by:

  • Increasing the proportion of positive online comments about the company, compared to negative and neutral comments, by 10 per cent over the next six months;
  • Increasing the volume of mentions of [your brand] online by 15 per cent by March 2010;

Yes, external influences occur. Yes, they’re unpredictable. Just be ready to discuss those when you review your program after the deadline. Don’t let them prevent you from setting useful objectives at the outset.

What do you think?

16 Responses to3 Steps To Better Objectives

  • Gee Ekachai
    ago12 years

    Great post! And a very good point on measurability. That cannot be emphasized enough.
    But to pinpoint a certain percentage increase (To increase web traffic by 15 percent in 3 months, for example) would be difficult if there is no previous baseline to compare with. Would it be OK to write “To create 1,000 web counter hits within first 4 weeks”? I teach PR campaigns class and most of the time our clients are nonprofits and never had research done to measure past efforts.

  • Hi Gee… an alternative would be to conduct a baseline audit of the current situation. Assuming they do have some kind of web analytics solution installed (and given the cost of Google Analytics, they really should), that’s perfectly doable. Sometimes, though, that may not be feasible. If it genuinely is the first time something is done – for example a new website – then a fixed visitor number is certainly an option.

  • Gee Ekachai
    ago12 years

    Thanks, Dave!

  • Great examples of proper objectives Dave! An acronym I tell my clients to use when developing objectives is “SMART”:



  • @LauraElizabethP
    ago12 years

    Great post! In my PR program, I’ve been taught the importance of using SMART objectives, but I like your pared down version of that formula. It’s nice to know that what we’re being taught is used in the industry. When you talk about measurement, however, are you referring to output (such as media impressions) or outcome (if people saw and retained the messages)?

  • Jccevans
    ago12 years

    Dear Dave,

    I found this very interesting as I am learning a lot about this topic right now as a Public Relations Graduate Certificate Student at Humber College. We are taking a course in applied communication planning and the professor has taught us the importance of “outcome”. Although “output” is a main component of PR in order to get our messages out there, what is the point if we don’t know people are getting our messages and listening to them? Many of our classes are focused on making these messages and tactics of getting them out to the public but measuring their success is also of great importance. In many of our projects making sure our objectives are SMART (as explained by Mike Kujawski above) is a major component. I’m happy to see these ideas floating around outside the classroom and how they specifically apply to corporate and agency. It really gives value to what I’m learning. Thanks so much for your insight.

    Jenny Evans

  • Carine Nsanza
    ago12 years

    Very good article

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