Opinion: Methods for proving our worth still elude

For a few brief moments last week, I thought I had found the PR equivalent of the Holy Grail in my inbox. Admittedly the subject line 'Joint Industry Evaluation Guidelines' won't send many pulses racing, but before I am dismissed as a sad character, I must point out that this was an idea I floated unsuccessfully nearly a decade ago as part of PRWeek's Proof Campaign to encourage investment in research and evaluation.

As part of this, the PRCA and the IPR (as it was then known) came together to create the first PR Research and Evaluation Toolkit. We suggested the idea of bringing other marketing disciplines on board, but everyone immediately dismissed it as impractical for a number of reasons.

No one in marketing seemed to take the idea that PR could contribute to ROI seriously, while evaluation of PR was considerably less scientific than that for advertising, direct marketing and sales promotion. Meanwhile, integrated marketing was more theory than reality, so no one was convinced we would get co-operation from the marketing bodies.

In the end we satisfied ourselves with the modest recommendation that other marketing disciplines and marketing directors might be so good as to share their research with PR departments and agencies to enable them to improve their targeting of messages. Advice most companies still seem unable to follow.

So this email raised my hopes that the PRCA, advertiser bodies IPA and ISBA, and marketing comms trade group MCCA, might have overcome the obstacles to compare the effectiveness of PR with other marketing disciplines, and even to disaggregate its effect.

The guide certainly makes some important points about the importance of tying back marketing to business, rather than comms, objectives, and focusing on the contribution to profit/sales. It also hints tantalisingly at the role econometrics can play in terms of isolating factors that increase sales, share price or profitability. But its top tips for evaluating various aspects of the marketing mix fail to look at how methods can be used across marketing disciplines, and once again the metrics for PR evaluation appear vague beside the specifics for direct marketing, sales promotion and advertising.

Critically, research for the guide found that evaluation is seen as a tool for determining investment - and as good as this guide is, it still doesn't reveal the ultimate secret of how to make the case for PR as part of the marketing mix. The search goes on.

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