‘I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth I know not where,’ wrote
Longfellow. A little harsh perhaps, but not an unrealistic assessment of
PR campaigns run by people for whom evaluation simply means weighing
It is depressing how many PR departments and consultancies still claim
results like ‘85 million potential impressions’ as proof of the success
of their work, when such statements are practically meaningless.
Media evaluation experts have elevated the analysis of media coverage to
a highly sophisticated state - particularly in terms of content and
message analysis. There is now no excuse - aside from budgetary
constraints at the very bottom end of the scale - for PR campaigns not
to be assessed in this way. Nevertheless, the true impact of a campaign
is not measured by the extent of coverage, or even the favourability of
its content, but by the effects on the target audience. An essential
part of this is to identify how to reach that audience in the first
Former advertising executives who have strayed across the boundary into
public relations are invariably astonished by two things: the powerful
potential of PR, and the primitive state of its media planning.
One of the greatest virtues of PR is its ability to narrowcast messages
to specific audiences in an extremely cost-effective manner. By failing
to use the kind of planning techniques and data employed in advertising,
that virtue is being wasted.
An encouraging number of PR consultancies - like Countrywide,
Consolidated Communications, and Jackie Cooper PR - have recognised that
media planning will be vital to the growth of public relations over the
next decade. Evaluators are pushing this message too, and quite rightly.
Proper planning will not only improve PR effectiveness but it will make
measurement of the results more accurate too.
There is of course an armoury of other tools at the PR professional’s
disposal than just media relations. PR planning must therefore take
account of a host of other measures. But the biggest step toward
improving PR effectiveness requires businesses to recognise that PR is a
management - not just a marketing - function. PR cannot work effectively
unless it plays a part in forming overall business strategy. The
reputation of a company, and years of PR efforts, can all too easily be
scuppered by a management failure to consider the communications
consequences of their actions. That theory has been demonstrated by a
dismal succession of companies this year. The ultimate goal is therefore
not just to introduce planning into PR, but to introduce PR into the
planning of business strategy.