Public Relations: The measure of PR - Measuring the effectiveness of a PR campaign means more than counting the cuttings. Ken Gofton reports on the latest evaluation techniques

By KEN GOFTON, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 02 April 1999 12:00AM

The public relations industry is currently displaying a remarkable degree of unity. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), representing the agencies, is co-operating on a major project with the Institute of Public Relations (IPR), the professional body for individual practitioners, including clients. They have the backing of their weekly trade paper, PR Week, and the support of specialist suppliers.

The public relations industry is currently displaying a remarkable

degree of unity. The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA),

representing the agencies, is co-operating on a major project with the

Institute of Public Relations (IPR), the professional body for

individual practitioners, including clients. They have the backing of

their weekly trade paper, PR Week, and the support of specialist

suppliers.



So what’s the big issue that even has the UK industry talking to US

colleagues about common standards? Measurement and evaluation is the

answer. Or, as PR Week’s year-long campaign succinctly calls it,

’Proof’.



It’s a myth that media relations can’t be measured. A toolkit of M&E

techniques, the product of this close collaboration between the IPR and

PRCA, is being tested this month, and will be published in May. Many of

the basic techniques have been around for years. The UK’s biggest PR

company, Shandwick, launched its own M&E toolbox in collaboration with

the research group, MORI, more than a year ago. The cynical explanation

as to why the topic is now receiving so much attention could be that the

US industry has gone through a similar exercise recently, and shown that

it can be done. But there are other reasons.



’Up until a couple of years ago, the pressure for measurement was mainly

from the agency world, for obvious commercial reasons,’ says Adrian

Wheeler, chairman of the PRCA, and chief executive of GCI. ’If you can’t

prove the worth of what you do, you’re on rather insecure ground.



’But something has been changing. As PR budgets have increased, and as

clients have faced demands from their internal paymasters to justify all

aspects of their marketing spend, the call for measurement and

evaluation from the client side has become almost as strong as it is on

the agency side.’



Nick Wiszowaty, chief executive of Freud Communications, claims that PR

traditionally came a poor third to advertising and sales promotion in

packaged goods marketing, but is increasingly recognised as an effective

tool. Out of a total marketing budget of pounds 10 million, the PR share

may now be between pounds 500,000 and pounds 1 million, he says: ’That’s

quite a lot of money. It isn’t good enough any longer to point to a pile

of cuttings in the corner as evidence of what has been achieved.’



’If you are spending pounds 250,000 on a campaign, and you can get

decent evaluation of the results for pounds 10,000, it seems a bit of a

no-brainer decision to me,’ Alastair Gornall, managing director of

Consolidated Communications, adds.



Costs of measurement are also falling. Sandra MacLeod, European managing

director for CARMA International, one of several companies offering

specialised media evaluation services, claims this is partly because

clients have refined their needs. They have come to appreciate that it

is not necessary to assess every press cutting about a company, but to

focus on what the most influential media are saying.



However, Dermot McKeone, managing director of one of her competitors,

Impact Evaluation Services, claims prices have dropped significantly,

not least because the UK is one of the most competitive markets in the

world for this kind of service. ’Clients are getting far better value

than they were five years ago,’ he says. ’The average cost of evaluating

a cutting has fallen from between pounds 5 and pounds 10 to around

pounds 3.’



Media evaluation is one of the techniques used in measuring public

relations effectiveness, and illustrates some of the major differences

between advertising and PR. The fundamental difference is that ad

agencies create ads and then buy the airtime or space to expose their

messages to the target audience.



There’s no mystery, therefore, about what messages have been

communicated, or how much exposure they have had.



In contrast, PR’s first task is usually to assess how widely messages

have been distributed, and whether they have been distorted by the

media.



Measures such as prompted and unprompted recall are largely irrelevant

in PR. Others, such as opportunities to see and readership and audience

profiles, or tracking changes in attitude, can be just as valid as they

are in advertising.



As Nan Williams, chief executive of Charles Barker BSMG Worldwide,

points out, other techniques are also being adapted from advertising to

improve the effectiveness of PR. The use of focus groups is now

widespread, and Williams’ agency is also experimenting with

pre-testing.



The conclusion, notes Wheeler, is that PR is such a diverse activity, it

requires a whole range of M&E techniques to match different

circumstances.



’We’ve had people who say you can only evaluate PR in a very sketchy

way, what I’d call the ’give up’ school, and we’ve had others looking

for the holy grail that would be valid for everything,’ he says.



It comes down to how much money and effort it is worth investing to get

a feeling for how well the campaign is going. And it is quite possible

to do too much. In a recent article, PR veteran Reggie Watts recalled

that, 25 years ago, Burson-Marsteller commissioned a university team to

develop a computer-based effectiveness model. It proved quite

impractical, requiring the input of data on every possible variable.

’The model looked nice, but ... it was placing us miles away from the ad

industry, who simply took credit for every increase in awareness, and

ignored everything else,’ he said.



MEASURING MEDIA IMPACT



Here’s a summary of some of the most common methods used for measuring

and evaluating PR campaigns:



* Set objectives in advance, and agree the criteria by which success

will be judged. Fundamental to any campaign, it may be the only method

available where budgets are small and objectives limited, eg: increase

trade press exposure by an agreed amount.



* Press cuttings, tapes of radio and TV exposure. Amassing evidence of

media coverage is a very traditional way of assessing PR success, but

volume alone is a very crude measure. Sometimes a money value is put on

it, equating column inches or time on air to what that would have cost

as advertising.



* Media evaluation. This is the old idea of keeping press cuttings,

brought up to date. Several independent systems are available (such as

CARMA, Impact, Precis). Typically, panels of readers judge whether each

cutting is positive or negative, and whether the clients’ key messages

have been communicated. Computer programs are then used to slice the

data every way imaginable. Refinements can include advertising measures

such as assessing opportunities to see, and analysis of readership by

individual title.



* Tracking studies. These are generally seen as an expensive option,

although using omnibus surveys reduces the cost. Such quantitative

research studies are essential for evaluating a campaign where the aims

are to change a target audience’s perceptions about a brand, service or

organisation.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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