R&E revolution: The launch of the Research and Evaluation Toolkit marks a turning point for the PR industry

This week sees the launch of a unique project - a set of definitive guidelines on the use of research and evaluation in PR, created as a result of an unprecedented collaboration between the IPR, the PRCA and the industry’s trade magazine, PR Week.

This week sees the launch of a unique project - a set of definitive

guidelines on the use of research and evaluation in PR, created as a

result of an unprecedented collaboration between the IPR, the PRCA and

the industry’s trade magazine, PR Week.



The launch of the Research and Evaluation Toolkit on 29 April represents

an important landmark for the industry. For the first time, this

practical guide to R&E moves the debate beyond ’why measure’, to ’how to

measure’.



The debate about the advisability and possibility of measuring and

evaluating PR effectiveness has been raging on both sides of the

Atlantic for years.



But as our recent PR Week/Countrywide Porter Novelli Proof Survey (12

March) showed, behind the politically-correct affirmations of the

importance of planning and evaluating, lies a wealth of inactivity. This

toolkit is designed to address that problem. Its purpose is to provide

some practical pointers on how the industry can actually begin to

achieve the accountability so often talked about.



On another level, the launch of the R&E Toolkit proves that when it

comes to the really important issues facing the industry, the trade

bodies that represent it and individual practitioners in both the public

relations and evaluation industries are more than willing to cast aside

differences of opinion for the common good.



The publication also represents an important landmark in PR Week’s own

Proof Campaign. The Proof Campaign first burst onto the pages of PR Week

in February 1998 with the bold assertion that client companies should

allocate ten per cent of their budgets to proper planning and evaluation

of campaigns. Subsequent straw polls showed that, with a few shining

exceptions, the majority of the industry was failing to allocate any

where near that level of spend.



This desk research also revealed that one of the major barriers to

spending on R&E was a confusion over the methodologies available and the

way they could be applied to different disciplines. As a result, the

Proof Campaign shifted focus to look at ways of providing more

information to clients and practitioners about R&E.



Over the last couple of years there have been some commendable

initiatives with regard to client education and raising levels of PR

professionalism, including publications produced by ICO and the media

evaluation industry.



But these and other standards of practice were largely

uncoordinated.



So it represented a major step forward for the industry when in November

last year, the IPR and PRCA agreed to co-fund a practical guide to

research and evaluation, to be written by Michael Fairchild - author of

ICO’s publication How to get real value from public relations - and

steered by an editorial board chaired by PR Week.



During its development, the toolkit was reviewed by a panel of client

practitioners, from organisations as diverse as the Central Office of

Information to BT, as well as a panel of agency practitioners. Their

views on how the toolkit could be made more user-friendly have been

incorporated into the final document.



The result is a toolkit designed for PR practitioners working in

consultancies, in-house, or in management roles with responsibility for

PR, PR training bodies and students, journalists, analysts and other

commentators on the profession. It is intended to be used by the

practitioner and client working together as an aid to planning. It

provides a flexible framework which can be used by any PR practitioner

in most situations and can be adapted and built on by users to suit

their needs.



Importantly, the toolkit recognises the diversity of the disciplines

known generically as PR, the range of audiences with which one interacts

and the way in which PR is expected to interact with other

disciplines.



All too often, practitioners associate R&E with media measurement,

concluding that those disciplines whose activities cannot be subjected

to media analysis cannot be measured. The toolkit, while accepting that

media evaluation is an extremely important part of that process, aims to

encourage users to take a broader view of the planning and evaluation

process.



To do this, it proposes a series of basic rules of measurement and a

sequence of five steps that should be an integral part of the public

relations planning process. These steps can be roughly summed up as:

audit of existing communications and background; constructing of

objectives; strategy and planning; the first stage of what should become

a continuous process of R&E; and reviewing the results and strategy.



The R&E toolkit and the approach it proposes is based upon best practice

in the UK, other EU countries and the US, and is illustrated by a series

of case studies from a range of sectors and disciplines. It includes a

set of worksheets that can be applied by a practitioner to a campaign or

used as part of a training exercise, as well as a checklist of questions

to assist in developing a PR brief with a client, and a budget guide to

assist in making a case for R&E funding.



Perhaps most importantly, this toolkit is realistic. While setting

standards for best practice, it recognises the fact that most PR

practitioners operate in a less than ideal world. It sets standards but

also gives practical advice on how to work most effectively with other

disciplines in the communications mix. It shows how to maximise

resources and to look at R&E less as a costly add-on to a campaign and

more as a fundamental approach to PR.



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