Analysis: Evaluation - Public relations people stand up to be counted

The publication of new evaluation guidelines by industry bodies has put all public relations practitioners on notice about what will be expected of them in the future.

The publication of new evaluation guidelines by industry bodies has

put all public relations practitioners on notice about what will be

expected of them in the future.



Traditional wisdom has it that public relations is lagging behind other

marketing disciplines when evaluating its own objectives and

results.



In the past few months however, perceptible efforts have been made to

put standards in place.



The International Committee of Public Relations Consultancies

Associations (ICO) in conjunction with The Association of Media

Evaluation Companies (AMEC) has published two documents which set out

clear guidelines.



AMEC’s ’The Power of the Media’, looks purely at media evaluation

techniques and how techniques such as message content analysis and trend

analysis can be applied to PR campaigns.



The document attempts to increase the use of structured media evaluation

in PR. Sandra Macleod, managing director of CARMA International and

chair of AMEC, says: ’When we came to the PR market seven years ago all

people were doing was collecting cuttings. Now people call and say they

need more sophisticated evaluation.’



ICO’s research has resulted in the publication of a booklet, - How to

get real value from public relations - which looks at the wider picture

of designing measurable communications objectives in line with business

goals. Peter Hehir, chairman of Countrywide Porter Novelli and president

of the ICO until earlier this month, says: ’The whole point of the

initiative is that clients have not been setting clear objectives.

Individuals accept briefs and start off in the wrong direction with

disappointment setting in early on.’



Time and money needs to be spent on considering how a PR strategy fits

into overall business objectives, argues Hehir. The ICO guidelines say

that an organisation’s strategic aims, marketing and sales objectives

and product aims should be made clear to the PR department or consultant

before a communications strategy is embarked upon.



Hehir says: ’If all PR companies were briefed properly and all

consultants understood their goals, the standing of the PR industry

could be totally transformed.’



However, communication between client and agency or in-house department

is essential in this, and inevitably there is a cost involved,

particularly where evaluation is concerned. The ICO guide suggests that

up to 12 per cent of a PR budget should be spent on evaluation. This

falls to five per cent on campaigns of over pounds 300,000, but still

represents a significant spend.



Jonathan Simnett, managing director of hi-tech agency A Plus believes

that most companies are not used to spending the sums of money needed to

evaluate a communications campaign. ’There is no reluctance on our side

to be measured but the issue is whether companies are prepared to pay,’

he says.



The signs are that some may be budgeting for evaluation. Macleod says

that AT&T has a director of communications research in the US, a

reflection that companies are taking research and evaluation more

seriously.



The ICO and AMEC attempts to raise standards of evaluation go beyond the

publication of a set of guidelines. Hehir says that training standards

are being drawn up which will form programmes to be taken into

agencies.



The booklets themselves are available to agencies in bulk to be

distributed among employees. Hehir says some have already done this. He

warns: ’The penny will drop and those agencies who haven’t read the

guidelines will run into problems.’ AMEC launches its guide to media

evaluation at this week’s IPR National Conference in Manchester where a

major theme is increasing accountability.



The belief that PR needs to become more accountable is being driven by

sophisticated clients says Dr Walter Lindenmann, senior vice-president

and director of research at Ketchum New York, who will chair a

discussion on evaluation at the conference.



’I don’t think it’s any more difficult to evaluate PR than

advertising.



It comes down to setting measurable objectives,’ he says.



’In the past a client may have set a PR objective such as ’We want

people to like us’ Now they should be more specific. Some clients are

saying ’70 per cent of people like us, but now we want a certain five

per cent to’,’ adds Lindenmann. If such specific goals are set, media

evaluation techniques and market research can be employed to determine

the effectiveness of the communications objective.



Some agencies already insist on having detailed communications plans in

place when working with a client, however, this is not always the case

across the industry. Hehir ends on a warning note: ’The industry is

growing but better people are now using PR and expect more from us. If

we don’t move on then other types of consultant will take work away from

us.’



THREE MEASURES OF PR SUCCESS



OUTPUT - This tells us whether the message was sent and aimed at the

target audience. Techniques employed involve analysing media coverage

including looking at number of articles and interviews (perhaps compared

with numbers of releases issued), prominence and messages. Measuring

output could also involve looking at speed of uptake of literature, or

to assess the size and characteristics of the audience being reached, or

the numbers visiting an event



OUT-TAKE - This measures the degree to which the audience is aware of

the message, has retained and understood it. Techniques include

interviews among target audiences, qualitative research and one- to-one

in-depth interviews to assess reaction to a programme and future

intentions.



OUTCOME - Clearly the greatest value is in knowing whether - and to what

degree - public relations activity is actually changing people’s

opinions, behaviour and attitudes. There may be straightforward proof

for this in terms of products sold or share prices rising (if only

promoted through PR), or measurement may involve interviewing and focus

groups.



* Taken from ’How to get real value from public relations’, by Michael

Fairchild.



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