Opinion: Measurement misses the point of good PR

This is a minority report. I am one of a handful of people in PR who, while knowing full well what evaluation is, remain sceptical that on a desert island it would remain the most effective tool in the PR survival kit. That is not to say that I don't strive to understand more about evaluation, nor is it to sound too cynical about the growing need to demonstrate what is variously called 'return on investment', 'key performance indicators' or, in the words of the client or departmental boss, plain old 'value for money'.

For the PR industry, getting the right measurement of success is seen as critical to shifting PR out of the reputational mire and to raise it head and shoulders above its advertising and marketing colleagues.

As reported in PRWeek last week, an IPR-commissioned study by Metrica Research on ROI measurement for PR work concluded that terminology was key and recommended pressing home the point about 'evidence-based PR' so that those who commission PR will understand more about it.

This can only be partly true. Language is not the most reliable of factors in turning around an image: putting 'New' in front of Labour springs to mind as an example of this. It might sound spangly for a bit, but any perception worries return eventually.

The report also recommended more sophisticated PR evaluation techniques to prove the 'business case' of the results achieved. I think that an impressive firework display of statistics and measurement is sometimes needed, particularly in government and large organisations where 'rollout' needs to be assessed regionally or internationally.

But no amount of research can sustain or replace the fundamentals: namely, whether the PR strategy works, and whether that strategy is crafted with the knowledge, support and active participation of the 'sponsor' of the PR activity in the first place.

The other shortcoming of evaluation is that it is almost entirely aimed at proving final outcome, rather than the route to destination. In other words: did we get favourable coverage in the FT? Did more people log on to the microsite?

But what about the nuance along the way? PR is all about subtlety and style if it's any good at all. By all means measure the results, but don't forget that what gets us hired in the first place is trust, the oldest intangible of them all.

Given a choice between a sophisticated results tracker and a telephone, I know which one I'd choose to do my job best.

- Kate Nicholas is on maternity leave.

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