PR evaluation scales new heights

Last year mountaineer Rod Baber teamed up with Motorola for an ambitious project. For Baber, the challenge was to scale Everest. When he got there, he would make the world's highest land-based mobile phone call and text, thereby gaining two Guinness World Records.

Rod Baber made the world's highest phone call to promote Motorola
Rod Baber made the world's highest phone call to promote Motorola

For Motorola, the mission would help promote its Z8 handset.

The climb was a success for both. Baber reached the summit on 21 May, calling his wife via a Chinese base station and satisfying the Guinness adjudicators.

But in PR terms, the analysis of the digital elements of the campaign enabled Motorola to generate solid evaluation of exactly to whom the campaign had appealed (see campaign below). Agencies striving to prove their impact take note - this may be the future.

Evaluation has always been a thorny issue. Debates about whether PR agencies should only charge for services if they achieve coverage, and questions about the effect that coverage has, have long raged in the industry.

Now, some PROs argue that using digital elements in a campaign could change all this. Instead of counting column inches and estimating the number of people who have read an article, the technology is there to find out how many people visited a company's micro­site, when they visited and how long they stayed. PROs can also track users to find out where they visited from.

In theory, they could also find out how many people read the article in which their brand or client was mentioned online. Even better, when products are sold on the web, companies can ask customers why they decided to buy.

But while the technology is there, the reality is not so simple.

First of all, website owners are the only people with access to the exact figures for traffic to their sites. So, while most newspaper sites or well-known blogs will give estimations of overall user numbers for advertising purposes, they are extremely unlikely to break the information down page by page.

For larger sites such as Guardian Unlimited, this overall figure is independently audited by ABC's Electronic division. For smaller sites, this is not the case.

That said, there are many free tools online that will track the most linked-to articles or postings. These include Nielsen's BlogPulse (

Companies can be far more precise when it comes to traffic visiting their own website. Administrators can find out almost everything, with useful information including spikes in visitor numbers during a PR campaign and referrals (where a user came to the site from).

If many users clicked through to a site after having read a piece on a blog or in an online newspaper, for example, it would be one way to prove the impact of PR.

Although it depends on the sector and tone of the blog or newspaper article, PROs are finding bloggers and journalists increasingly happy to put links into their stories.

Shine managing partner Erika Hendrick therefore advises putting recipes, live interviews and so on on to microsites, giving journalists and bloggers genuine reasons to encourage interested readers to go there.

The power of the internet means yet more information will be available as soon as users download a clip or document. Christian Mahne - head of Lansons Communications digital division Lansons Live - says this can furnish even more accurate data: ‘Anything with a distinct call to action is easy to measure online,' he explains.

As Hendrick points out: ‘This helps you to discover why people have gone to the site - if a webchat was only promoted by PR, rather than an advertising campaign or mail shots, you can tell if the PR campaign has been effective.'

Although most believe it is easier to drive users to a website through online PR, mentions of websites in traditional media still often lead to spikes in coverage. It may not be as easy to prove, but charting the timing of the publication of PR-generated articles against spikes of activity on a website will prove useful.

Careful planning
Either way, PROs must consider the web at the planning stages and ens­ure they either have access to their clients' websites, or have a good enough relationship with them that both parties know what should be tracked bef­ore, during and after the campaign.

For this to be meaningful they must get to know a little about web analytics, not classic territory for creative media types, as Spannerworks head of content and media Antony Mayfield
explains: ‘It sounds like boring, hard maths - and it is. Very few PR people get numbers.'

Logistics might make things difficult, too. Edelman account director Tim Callington points out: ‘The ideal would be for communications and sales teams to form campaign objectives together that could be proven through online sales. We're getting there, but the trick is making it happen.'

Experimenting with web analytics is a great, if challenging, investment.

Hendrick says Shine has made inroads into this territory with recently developed online evaluation tool Dave (Digital Advertising Value Equivalent), which measures the number of visitors to a microsite, ‘dwell time', ref­errals, timings of visits and so on, and also uses ‘spider searches' to judge comments in blogs and on forums.

But while online evaluation shows a great deal of promise, no one system has been proven foolproof - yet. What is more, the complex and ever-evolving nature of the web means a ‘one size fits all' approach will never be applicable.

As Way To Blue founder Olly Swanton confirms: ‘Closing the loop bet­ween editorial endorsement and point of purchase is the Holy Grail. There are many rumours, but no confirmation of its actual existence. If we had the Holy Grail, trust me, you'd know about it.'

Campaign GOJO
Client The Disability Rights Commission
PR Team Forster
Timescale April-June 2007
Budget £950,000

Research undertaken by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) in 2006 found that twice as many young disabled people lack confidence using public transport as their non-disabled peers, owing to factors such as lack of access and bad experiences.

Last year, the DRC ran the first major communications campaign to try to address this issue among 16- to 25-year-olds, concentrating on five regions - Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle and Exeter. The campaign was named, rather cryptically, GOJO.

The aim was to increase confidence levels and number of journeys undertaken by young disabled people on public transport, as well as raising awareness of new rights
in discrimination law.

The main focus of the campaign was a website, which would provide practical information such as information on rights, and on how to complain to transport operators. The website encouraged interaction via a weblog where users recorded their travel experiences and tips.

The agency also undertook stakeholder relations targeting transport providers and those that work with disabled people.

Evaluation of the website during the 11-week period of campaign activity showed that 78 per cent of website sessions (21,579) did not come through a referral website, reflecting the success of offline PR.

It also showed that the link that achieved the most referrals to GOJO was on the DirectGov website, - the origin of nearly seven per cent of sessions (1,910). Forster's qualit-ative and quantitative pre- and post-campaign research found 70 per cent of respondents said GOJO had influenced them to use public transport.

Campaign Call of the mountain
Client Motorola
PR Team Edelman
Timescale March-May; record attempt 15-23 May 2007
Budget £30,000-£50,000

Edelman was briefed to generate positive word of mouth about the MOTO Z8 handset, so it asked mountaineer Rod Baber if he would scale Everest and make the world's highest land-based mobile phone call and text message.

Motorola provided Baber with a MOTO Z8 handset to record images, text, video and audio content. Baber documented the journey through a mobile blog.

Targeting 18- to 35-year-olds, the agency used the multimedia content generated by Baber on Motorola websites, on profiles on MySpace and Facebook and in exclusives with BBC Online.

Edelman invited journalists from GQ, The Daily Telegraph and Italy's Gazetta dello Sport to accompany Baber to Everest.

Edelman also co-ordinated an internal competition at Motorola for employees to develop the message for the world's highest land-based mobile text. As well as multiple mentions in

European media and 35 pieces of UK coverage, Baber's ‘call of the mountain' was found on
the front page of Google search results.

It was mentioned in dozens of influential blogs, many of which linked back to Baber's moblog page.

During 15-23 May 2007, the blog was visited by 5,107 unique users, generating 13,420 page views.

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