How Do You Evaluate the Success of a Communications Program?

At the start of almost every communications program, we are asked the same questions: How do we know if our communications program is successful and how do we measure that success?

It’s a fair question. How do we know if our efforts – the precisely crafted messaging, the proactive media work, the nuanced social media campaigns – have been successful?

While the scientist in me would love to present precise data and graphs to show an upward trend in xyz metrics, the reality is, it’s not that straightforward. The reason is not because we aren’t data driven, but it’s because what constitutes success doesn’t easily translate to any one number or set of numbers.

You see our conundrum.

So, does this mean there is no way to measure success? Not quite. The answer to the question of measuring success falls into that potentially frustrating category of “it depends.” At the end of the day, it comes down to your particular corporate objectives, which means every company will have its own, individualized answer.

What we can do to satisfy this need is design and align on indirect measures of success ahead of any program that ladder up to your goals. I like to think of these as biomarkers of the communications world. This is one aspect of our job where we allow our creativity to shine.


Arguably the hardest component of a communications program to measure is messaging. How do you quantify “good” messaging? Yes, you could do an in-depth perception study across your target audiences before and after implementation of new messaging, but we often don’t have that luxury.

Instead, we can count on communications biomarkers to assess whether our messaging is doings its job. One place to look is the interpretation of our messaging by stakeholders. Are analyst notes and media stories accurate? Are they including all key aspects of the story? Yes? That’s great! That means our messages are getting through in our conversations and other materials (i.e. website, corporate deck). But if not, something clearly is not resonating. Our messaging should be strong enough that our target audiences can understand even the most complicated of concepts. If we find the same errors again and again, it’s time to take a look and refine our messaging.

The same holds true with investor questions. Are we receiving the same questions from investors over and over? If so, it’s time to update our messaging to proactively address these inquiries. Perhaps our investors are worried about the market size for our Phase 3 drug. This should set off alarm bells that tell us a key component of our messaging is missing.

This type of feedback can be an essential way to measure “good” messaging. You just have to know where to look.


Earned media success can be a complicated component of a communications program to measure. Here, we need to use a combination of communications biomarkers to determine whether we are achieving our objectives.

“Share of voice” is one of the best biomarkers. When reporters talk about our drug target, are we mentioned? These mentions can occur through multiple scenarios. The first is in an organic story about the target, not driven by any particular news. Is our company or drug mentioned? Did the reporter ask to speak with one of our corporate spokespersons or one of our KOLs? The second is “piggybacking” on other news in the space. Did the CDC just put out new guidance? Did a KOL just publish a prominent paper? Did another company have positive data in the same indication with read-through to our programs? We want to be a part of the conversation on our target as much as possible. Over the course of a communications program, as we work to build awareness of a company, we want to have a share of voice in key conversations.

Two other key biomarkers for media success are: 1) did we reach our target audiences and 2) did our messages resonate?

To assess the former, it’s important to consider the readers of a particular outlet. For a company looking to reach institutional investors, BioWorld or BioCentury, among others, might be good targets. For a company looking to reach retail investors, Motley Fool or Investor’s Business Daily might be the best options. Of course, in today’s digital world everyone can read everything, so lucky for us it’s not as siloed anymore.

To assess the latter, it’s important to read the media story resulting from an interview. Just as we assess messaging success, we want to examine whether the reporter pulled through the key messages from our spokespersons. They did? Great news! That means our messages are resonating. But if not, we should specifically assess the delivery of our messages and adjust for the next interview. It may take some practice, but it’s important to put in the time to make sure we are delivering the right messages in the clearest way.

Social media

I will end with the most straightforward category. When it comes to social media, we have access to real-time data that can help us measure the success of our efforts. Using published healthcare industry benchmarks, we are able to compare campaigns to those executed across the industry. We can also track our own performance over time, comparing updated campaigns to a company’s historic performance.

The most important social media Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is engagement rate. This tells us how well our content is resonating with our audiences, independent of the number of people that follow an account. From engagement, we can assess whether we are reaching the right people with the right type of content and getting them to take the action we want them to take (clicking to a website, watching a video, enrolling in a clinical trial, etc.). Equipped with an engagement rate, we can make comparisons to healthcare industry benchmarks to determine how well we are performing compared to our peers. The goal of all our programs at LifeSci is to beat this industry benchmark consistently.

After engagement rate, we can align on secondary KPIs. These will vary by company depending on communications goals and objectives. For example, if our goal is to use social media to drive audiences to learn more about a specific drug candidate, we will want to follow social media and website analytics data to track how many people visited our program’s website and evaluate what they did once they got there.

One very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to social media is it’s not all about the number of people who follow your account. It’s about reaching and engaging with the right people – whatever size that target audience may be.

Final thoughts

What’s key to remember is that achieving our corporate objectives takes time and coordination across all of our communications tools, so measuring one program component like media or social media on a weekly or even monthly basis is not realistic. To measure a communications program most accurately, these metrics should be assessed on a quarterly or even bi-yearly basis. In my view, the best communications programs give equal priority to messaging, media and social media components in order to maintain sustained success over the long term.

Graphic created by: Autumn Von Plinsky