RESEARCH AND EVALUATION: The top investors

Alastair Ray looks at the biggest investors in evaluation and asks why it is valuable.

The PRWeek/AMEC League Table shows that, from the more than £14m the Top 10 companies made last year, the lead sectors investing in evaluation are technology (which accounts for 30.3 per cent of income among the Top 10 evaluation companies), the financial services and products industry (17.42 per cent) and automotives (10.29 per cent). Certain sectors invest more in measuring their PR activity than others. The question is why?

While the middle ground includes the public sector, professional services and consumer (non-FMCG), and the laggards include the healthcare industry, FMCG and media, research companies themselves say growth is coming on a broad front.

'The growth is coming across the board, but technology is one of the key growth areas,' says Metrica joint managing director Richard Bagnall.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Systems Group UK PR manager Paul Collier says this is because of competition. 'We need to know that the marketing function, and specifically PR, is showing value to the bottom line,' he explains.

The automotive sector is another lead investor in evaluation.

'It's ultra competitive,' says Tim Holmes, Ford of Europe director of communications and public affairs, western Europe. 'Like a Formula 1 team, everyone is looking for an edge.'

But perhaps unique to the sector is the automotive industry culture, which determines the way the PR department and the PR budget are justified internally. 'What we provide is not a service, but a rational, mechanical product. We all interface with engineering, and we have to communicate about what we do in a structured way,'adds Holmes.

Carma International managing director Tom Vesey suggests that global consolidation in the financial sector (investment banking), which has created large organisations with huge communications departments, has added to the call for more accountability and this has influenced PR departments at financial institutions.

'If you take a major financial institution they could be employing up to 300 to 500 globally, basically working in non-paid communication,' says Vesey. 'That involves massive sums of money that hitherto have not been accounted for.'

It's also interesting to note that despite the tough times affecting the IT and telecoms markets, companies in these sectors are still investing in evaluation.

'I think in some ways IT and telecoms companies are quite often at the leading edge of new and innovative strategic tools, and media evaluation falls into that area,' says Mike Daniels, Report International managing director.

Test Research MD Tim Burns explains the relative uptake of research and evaluation in terms of the level of media attention that different sectors attract: 'If you take the financial services sector, they advertise a lot, but almost certainly their position and brand has been hit far more by Equitable Life and other pension stories to the detriment of advertising. These are areas where the media are perceived to have a more significant impact.'

For the future, the increasing value companies are placing on their corporate reputation is a factor that will, the sector hopes, drive current low-spending sectors to consider evaluation. Westaby says that on this basis: 'FMCG, you might expect, would be stronger. Over the next five years, FMCG organisations are going to represent a big opportunity for the evaluation industry. With the strength of brands and the growth of CSR, both the corporate and consumer brand are becoming very important to corporate reputation. So FMCGs don't currently consider evaluation in the way they probably will in five years.'

The public sector is also growing. Echo Research chief executive Sandra Macleod says that a move towards a greater emphasis on delivery has seen the public sector boost its involvement in evaluation.

'In terms of the more general stakeholder research, the one who is starting to come through more is the public sector, it needs to be accountable,' she says.

But in general, there are still large areas in many sectors that are virgin territory. 'We are still talking to companies who haven't done this before,' Macleod adds.

Mediatrack chief executive Nicholas Grant points out that growth can come from existing clients, particularly if different parts of the same company also need media evaluation.

'The idea of there simply being only one buyer inside a company is changing. We've got two, three, four or five contracts running with different people in the same company," says Grant.

Although the utilities sector represents a small slice of the pie (3.42 per cent), the multiple appeals of evaluation are explained by British Gas director of communications Dominic Cheetham. One use, he says, is to explain the PR department to internal audiences: 'It helps us to explain our roles and our impacts to internal audiences, for whom PR can be a dark art.'

While the range of reasons why evaluation offers value to different sectors varies, there is little debate among the converts that it is essential to managing PR. The evaluation industry is always, therefore, seeking more converts.

CASE STUDY - CAHOOT

When Abbey National launched online bank Cahoot in June 2000, it quickly picked up customers among the early adopters - tech and financially savvy males and those comfortable with mining the financial press for offers.

The next challenge was to win converts from other groups, particularly women aged 25 to 44. Evaluation firm Metrica worked alongside i to i research and Manning Selvage & Lee to research the planning of the campaign, which ran from August 2001 to summer 2002, and assess its delivery and effectiveness.

Metrica was charged with identifying key messages, demonstrating that PR objectives had been met, and linking coverage back to web visits. It also tracked issues such as security to gain an understanding of Cahoot's positioning against its competitors.

The research agency found that less than five per cent of the coverage had been unfavourable and helped identify the reach and frequency that had been achieved. It also advised how the target audience could be reached more effectively.

The final analysis showed that PR activity helped attract 270,000 new customers to the website. According to Cahoot's conversion figures, an estimated 14 per cent - 41,580 - signed up.

Tracking also showed those who were aware of the PR messages were much more likely to recall the proposition and have a positive impression of Cahoot.

'Linking measurement back to the business benefits and consumer attitudes enabled the client to see the true picture,' says Metrica joint managing director Richard Bagnall.

Among high-income earning ABC1 25 to 44-year-olds, 47 per cent of those who had seen coverage had or planned to visit the Cahoot website. This compares with just 31 per cent of those who weren't aware of any editorial coverage.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.