Wisely, Shandwick is not claiming that its new Step programme,
developed in conjunction with MORI, is the evaluation equivalent of the
The ultimate goal would be to prove a causal link between PR and
business performance, but no evaluation programme is likely to achieve
that. This is because the sheer cost of pursuing the solution through
ever more sophisticated research will eventually outweigh the benefits.
In that sense, the task facing evaluators is like calculating the value
of pi - the best one can hope for is to add a few decimal places,
without ever quite reaching a definitive answer.
Shandwick’s aim was to produce a state of the art system which is
accessible to its entire network. The five-stage programme, accessible
through the agency’s ShandNet intranet system, uses techniques like
pre-campaign research and planning, media analysis linked to demographic
data, and attitudinal research among target audiences afterwards.
None of this is rocket science. Those used to advertising evaluation
methods will find much that is familiar here. But it is the first time
that a global PR agency has applied those techniques in a format which
is accessible to all its clients. Now it has an education job to do.
As ever, the biggest sticking point is likely to be cost. The recently
published ICO guidelines on evaluation recommend that a percentage of
budget should be allocated to evaluation on a sliding scale. Major PR
campaigns with a budget of over pounds 500,000 are recommended to spend
three to five per cent of the total on evaluation.
But while those with a pounds 5 million PR budget might consider a spend
of around pounds 200,000 on evaluation quite acceptable, those with a
spend of pounds 50,000 (which is nearer the average) may balk at
spending the recommended 10 to 12 per cent - around pounds 5,000. And
even that would not be enough to afford the full Step package, which
could cost three times that amount.
For this reason, Shandwick does not anticipate a mad rush to buy all
five parts of the Step programme. But as model for best practice, all
clients should sit up and take notice. What the Step programme
demonstrates is that the more you put into it, the more value you will
get out of it - not only in setting goals and measuring results, but in
using that information to refine your future PR strategy.
And with more competition than ever for client attention, better
evaluation will be the single most important factor in determining the
future importance of public relations as a management discipline.