COMMENT: EDITORIAL: With strategy PR can hit bullseye

‘I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth I know not where,’ wrote Longfellow. A little harsh perhaps, but not an unrealistic assessment of PR campaigns run by people for whom evaluation simply means weighing press cuttings.

‘I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth I know not where,’ wrote

Longfellow. A little harsh perhaps, but not an unrealistic assessment of

PR campaigns run by people for whom evaluation simply means weighing

press cuttings.



It is depressing how many PR departments and consultancies still claim

results like ‘85 million potential impressions’ as proof of the success

of their work, when such statements are practically meaningless.



Media evaluation experts have elevated the analysis of media coverage to

a highly sophisticated state - particularly in terms of content and

message analysis. There is now no excuse - aside from budgetary

constraints at the very bottom end of the scale - for PR campaigns not

to be assessed in this way. Nevertheless, the true impact of a campaign

is not measured by the extent of coverage, or even the favourability of

its content, but by the effects on the target audience. An essential

part of this is to identify how to reach that audience in the first

place.



Former advertising executives who have strayed across the boundary into

public relations are invariably astonished by two things: the powerful

potential of PR, and the primitive state of its media planning.



One of the greatest virtues of PR is its ability to narrowcast messages

to specific audiences in an extremely cost-effective manner. By failing

to use the kind of planning techniques and data employed in advertising,

that virtue is being wasted.



An encouraging number of PR consultancies - like Countrywide,

Consolidated Communications, and Jackie Cooper PR - have recognised that

media planning will be vital to the growth of public relations over the

next decade. Evaluators are pushing this message too, and quite rightly.

Proper planning will not only improve PR effectiveness but it will make

measurement of the results more accurate too.



There is of course an armoury of other tools at the PR professional’s

disposal than just media relations. PR planning must therefore take

account of a host of other measures. But the biggest step toward

improving PR effectiveness requires businesses to recognise that PR is a

management - not just a marketing - function. PR cannot work effectively

unless it plays a part in forming overall business strategy. The

reputation of a company, and years of PR efforts, can all too easily be

scuppered by a management failure to consider the communications

consequences of their actions. That theory has been demonstrated by a

dismal succession of companies this year. The ultimate goal is therefore

not just to introduce planning into PR, but to introduce PR into the

planning of business strategy.



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