As the canapes circulate for the third time, a senior PR counselor at a cocktail party is warming to his theme. 'Do you know what's great about this firm?' he asks, rhetorically. 'Before we start work for any client, we sit down, we ask a lot of questions. We get a real feel for and understanding of the client's needs and we agree to a set of achievable goals.'
To his apparent annoyance, someone interrupts to ask how he knows when the 'achievable' has been achieved. 'That's obviously something you decide with the client,' he replies with a dismissive shrug.
In effect what he is saying?although his jargon puts a thin layer of gloss on the issue?is that the client and agency are not only basing their PR campaign on instinct, but also measuring it by instinct.
It is simply not good enough for the client to know his or her business well. This knowledge is highly unlikely to yield an accurate reflection of how the client's publics view the company in question, and is even less likely to provide a decent gauge of any change in the client's reputation.
What's more, it won't walk the dog when it comes to selling PR to marketing-savvy corporations who are used to buying from ad agencies with their arsenal of measurement techniques.
Unfortunately, however, PRWeek's Proof survey shows that the use of anecdotal feedback and 'gut instinct' is still the second-most commonly used measurement and evaluation tool?58% of respondents used this technique for their last campaign. Worse still, 24% used ad equivalency tests, although even the most inexperienced PR pro can see that ads and PR are not measurable on the same scale.
Why do these ambiguous measures persist, despite the fact that there is almost unanimous agreement among the top PR pros that a standard of measurement would increase the industry's standing, and encourage marketers to open the PR purse strings a little wider?
The answers are manifold. An incredible 67% told PRWeek that they thought measurement was a difficult concept to sell to clients and senior management.
With all due respect, the success of the ad industry and proliferation of measurement in all areas of busines, make a mockery of such logic.
More justifiably, 42% said it was hard to get that extra 10% on the budget that is needed to properly evaluate a PR campaign. There are no quickfire solutions to this problem. Joseph Heller himself would have considered it a tricky one: the client needs to be persuaded of the value of PR to part with more cash, but the agency can't prove its value without the money to measure its work.
If there is a solution to this Catch-22, it probably lies in the ability of agencies to spend some of their own money to prove the value of measurement.
It might also help if everyone was using a common system of measurement, something the clients would learn to understand and trust.
The 'great chat' you had with a client last week might make for lively party conversation, but it is not going to give the profession the credibility it craves.