When PR Week published a report into research and evaluation in the
UK PR industry earlier this year, a widespread uncertainty about how
best to measure PR effectiveness was revealed. One oft suggested
solution is for the industry to adopt tools used in other marketing
disciplines in line with PR Week’s Best Practice campaign and the CBI’s
Fit for the Future initiative.
A lot of clients still need persuading that PR can be tracked as
accurately as their advertising, direct marketing and promotions. Many
see it as a valuable, but unmeasurable, part of the mix.
Andrew Marsden, marketing director of Britvic Soft Drinks, is one client
who would like to evaluate his PR spend better but cannot see how
techniques used in other areas can be applied. ’PR has specific
difficulties you don’t encounter in advertising and promotion,’ he says.
’PR tends to have various messages going to various audiences, so it’s
much harder to measure.’
The more difficult the evaluation, the more it costs and, for many
clients, that’s where PR evaluation becomes uneconomical. The result is
a reliance on ’gut feel’ - a ’tool’ many Proof survey respondents
confessed to using.
Alan Welsman, UK marketing director for Sony Computer Entertainment,
believes it is as good a tool as any. As a former PR head, it is not as
though he takes the discipline lightly, but he believes his evaluation
budget is better spent on advertising than PR. ’At the end of the day,
it’s easy to see if the coverage was good or bad. There are tools to
formally measure PR, but I can tell at once whether it has been
successful or not,’ he says.
But some argue PR can not only use many techniques from other
disciplines, but that it can do so without incurring too much extra
expense. Ken Clarke, director of market research company Milward Brown,
has analysed the contribution of PR to marketing campaigns. He believes
that as long as PR is tackled from the start as an integral part of the
marketing strategy, then its contribution can be analysed as accurately
as other elements of the mix.
’Marketers constantly gather data on campaigns and doubtless have
information about the effectiveness of PR spend if only they look for
it. The problem comes when PR people try to do research in isolation of
the marketing department, or when the PR element is planned separately,’
Clarke adds that applying analysis techniques to a campaign with PR
integrated from the outset will illuminate its contribution. For
example, in a car launch, a great deal of awareness can be generated in
a pre-launch PR campaign as opposed to the subsequent advertising push.
This can be singled out, he says, by simply adding some questions to the
quantitative survey marketers use to assess the effectiveness of
Media analysis company CMS Precis has, together with Milward Brown,
investigated other ways in which PR can adapt analysis tools for its own
use. Pre-testing is an example: just as an advertisement is copy-tested
before going to air, press releases can be tested too, ensuring the
message is right for an intended audience.
Copy-testing press releases is about about more than saying the right
thing about a product. ’It’s about testing whether the flavour and
tonality of the language used are consistent with the company’s brand
values that you would expect to see coming across,’ says CMS Precis MD
Media planning techniques can also be applied to PR, helping plan press
release distribution. Hampton says: ’You have to research the media
consumption habits of your target audience to be able to focus on
different segments. This is habitually done by advertising
Another technique is to look at how long brand awareness remains after
an advert has been seen and how much the message has to be reinforced to
make it stay in the mind. Hampton says the same principle can be applied
to PR: ’You can ask what the shelf life of an article is just as you can
with an advert. Knowing the shelf life of a message helps you decide on
the timing of when to release information.
’The shelf life of an advert depends on its execution and the brand
equity of the advertiser, and the same applies to editorial,’ he adds.
’If you have a successful product and can continuously get across
positive messages about it, that will have an affect on maintaining
awareness. But a lot of it is down to what’s in consumers minds in the
Broadcast PR consultancy Bulletin International often uses analysis
tools adapted from other areas of marketing. Message testing through
focus groups, media schedule performance measurement, brand awareness
and attitude studies are all used in its evaluation. On top of this, the
agency has a rigorous system of content analysis that scores campaigns
against pre-selected objectives.
Group director Jennie Kettlewell, who used to work in advertising, is in
a good position to compare evaluation techniques in the two
’In advertising, you don’t have to do content analysis after the
campaign has gone out because the message is constant,’ she says. ’But
in PR, you need to go back and ask how your message was interpreted and
what audience it reached. It’s more complex but it’s entirely
Although not a direct measurement tool, assessing client/agency
relationships is another way of exploring the PR effectiveness
The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) annually surveys
its members on the issue. In its 1999 Evaluating Advertising Agency
Performance report, it revealed that 78 per cent of clients formally
evaluate their advertising agencies, looking at all aspects of the
This has made many abandon the old commission-based payment structure in
favour of a performance-linked contract. According to the report, 20 per
cent of UK clients now pay their advertising agencies on this basis;
just last week, Procter and Gamble, the world’s biggest advertiser,
announced it was dropping the commission system to reward agencies
according to results.
Such a relationship puts the onus on increased evaluation - if you are
going to pay your agency more for a better performance, you want to know
exactly what they achieved for your brand.
Alison Clarke, chief executive of Shandwick Welbeck, says payment by
results is not common in PR, but blames that on clients being nervous
about better agency performance costing more than they might expect.
’They still balk at it in this industry - we have some way to go before
we can convince them it’s worth doing,’ she says.
There is still some way to go in convincing clients that measurement of
PR is something that can be done alongside other marketing disciplines
and with the same degree of accuracy. But as long as PR is properly
planned and integrated into a campaign from the outset, there is no
reason for it to be seen as the unmeasurable element of the mix.