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?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.