Stealing a march on R&E solutions: There is no reason why R&E techniques used by other forms of marketing can’t be employed to measure PR, says James Curtis

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.

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,’

he says.



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

campaigns.



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

Fergus Hampton.



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

agencies.’



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

first place.’



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

industries.



’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

possible.’



Although not a direct measurement tool, assessing client/agency

relationships is another way of exploring the PR effectiveness

debate.



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

relationship.



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.



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