Not Connecting with the C-Suite? Start Speaking KPIs and OKRs


Rick Lyke

Executive Vice President, Public Relations and Public Affairs

If it is important to the C-suite, it is important to find a metric to measure it. Too often public relations teams feel like they aren’t quite connecting with top executives. The reality is it is often a failure to communicate using shared metrics. Start using the language of key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives and key results (OKRs) if you want to get the attention of key executives.

If you find yourself frustrated because it feels like great results are not getting noticed, start thinking about the C-suite as your top customer and not your company or client’s management. KPIs and OKRs are the driving forces behind performance evaluations of CEO, CMO and CCO leaders. If you want to score with this audience you need to address what matters to them.

Consultants that advise boards of directors typically select from a list of about two dozen business drivers to create performance dashboards for executive teams. These focus around key aspects of the business such as revenue trends, operational performance, customer satisfaction and employee retention. Depending on the industry, factors such as customer acquisition costs, inventory turnover, lead generation/quality and employee/asset/space utilization rates can be key factors. Increasingly, reputational value comes into play in the form of brand equity, along with consideration of ESG, CSR and DEI targets.

Start by doing research and asking questions. Most C-suite executives will share KPIs and OKRs. They should be willing to discuss pain points and barriers that are keeping the company from hitting its goals. If they offer up broad answers like brand awareness, improved profitability or recognition for industry leadership, ask probing questions.

Why is brand awareness important? Is it a case where the company’s products aren’t showing up in customer consideration sets? What is standing in the way of improved profitability? Is it a case where recruitment efforts are falling short, and the company does not have the staff to fulfill orders? If they feel they are not getting credit for industry leadership, ask them what other brands are getting the spotlight and why.

The process can require breaking down silos to gain access to the right data points to establish a baseline analysis of the situation, but the end result of proving the value of public relations is worth the effort. Your first step should be to test the validity of the concern. If someone says, “We have low brand awareness,” it is appropriate to ask what data is available to illustrate the gap compared to competitors.

Here are some common areas where C-suite KPIs can be reflected in setting objectives for public relations programs:

Sales: A surprising number of organizations don’t make direct links between sales results and public relations or other marketing programs. But there are measurable points in the funnel that can be tracked and linked back to specific public relations campaigns, including in-bound inquiries, qualified leads and traffic at trade shows, special events and retail locations.

Recruitment: One of the most significant challenges American businesses face today is recruiting qualified staff. The ability of human resources departments to attract resumes from quality candidates is directly supported by a variety of awareness-raising and reputation-building public relations activities. Shortening the time required to fill open positions and increasing the number of qualified applicants is one measure. Improved employee satisfaction and reduced turnover can avoid costs and boost profitability.

Corporate Reputation: Personal relationships are built on affection, relevance and trust. Customers prefer to do business with brands they like and companies they respect. Building and nurturing a positive corporate reputation takes time and effort, but the investment pays off. Companies that attract fans have easier paths in gaining distribution, finding partners and generating favorable results. Ending up on lists like the most admired, most ethical, most sustainable and best places to work draws the right kind of attention from important audiences.

Purpose-Driven Performance: Do employees embrace the organization’s mission, vision and values? Is the company meeting goals established for things like regulatory compliance and workforce diversity? Are corporate social responsibility efforts aligned with outcomes that are meaningful to key stakeholder groups? Public relations can bring focus and help communicate these programs to get more effective results.

Safety, Security and Sustainability: Every organization has potential exposures that can turn an otherwise great year into a challenge. Goals as diverse as reducing workplace injuries to eliminating potential threats related to data breaches to avoiding negative attention for environmental issues are all metrics that internal communications programs can help address. Public relations can boost employee engagement around core issues that impact the company bottom line.

Customer Service and Product Quality: Training programs and operational processes play a significant role in quality control. Internal communications that set expectations and external communications that build pride will also drive improvements.

Operational Improvements: From cutting expenses to reducing downtime, improving order fulfillment times and enhancing project completion rates, public relations can focus attention on internal initiatives that cause a greater percentage of revenues to reach the bottom line.

Awareness and Perceptions: Public relations is one of the most effective and efficient ways of increasing awareness and positively influencing brand perceptions. Whether these efforts focus on boosting traffic to you website or to your trade show booth, public relations can play a key role.

Once you shift the measurement of public relations campaigns to match KPIs and OKRs, the connection to C-suite decision-makers becomes stronger and more direct.

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