It was just over a year ago that PR Week first launched the Proof
campaign in a bid to encourage client companies to allocate 10 per cent
of their budgets to research and evaluation (R&E). The campaign has
evolved considerably in the last 12 months, with the focus moving away
from setting target spending figures to examining the reasons for the
reluctance to spend.
A series of straw polls undertaken by PR Week over the last year
highlighted the need for greater emphasis on educating client companies
and PR practitioners about the benefits of proper planning and
evaluating PR activities. At the Proof Forum last November a major step
forward was taken when the IPR and the PRCA committed to co-funding a
set of best practice guidelines on the use of R&E. These guidelines,
which will take the form of a toolkit, are currently being written by
Michael Fairchild, author of ICO’s publication ’How to get real value
from public relations’ and overseen by an editorial board chaired by PR
As part of this process, PR Week has commissioned the most in-depth
survey ever undertaken into the use of R&E by the UK PR industry. The PR
Week/ Countrywide Porter Novelli Proof Survey was carried out by CARMA
International and involved telephone interviews with over 200 PR Week
readers and a series of face-to-face interviews representing a
cross-section of both in-house and consultancy roles and disciplines.
This report is also the first of its kind to compare the views of
agency, in-house and public sector practitioners.
Time for action
The Proof Survey makes for disturbing reading and shows that a year on
there is still much to be achieved. Although most people within the
industry are keen to jump on the bandwagon and state their view that
better R&E is crucial to the success of PR, the evidence is that many
are simply paying the issue lip-service. On the one hand, the Proof
Survey shows that PR practitioners feel the main challenge facing the PR
industry in the UK today is improving its image. On the other, people do
not appear to associate this with greater accountability and acceptable
measurement standards. ’This seems to be a fundamental mis-match,’ says
Christine Woodcock, client services director at Countrywide Porter
It was because of the need to move the debate beyond politically-correct
affirmations of the importance of evaluation, that PR Week decided to
try to establish a more detailed picture, not only of how practitioners
working in different PR disciplines view, but also how they use, the
different R&E methodologies available to them.
Eager to practice what they preach, PR Week, the IPR and the PRCA also
wanted to establish a benchmark against which the success of the
forthcoming toolkit can be measured in terms of its effectiveness in
raising awareness of and increasing use of different R&E methodologies.
By looking at the various existing attitudes and applications of R&E, PR
Week and Proof Forum members plan to draw up a framework of measurable
objectives to encourage a wide audience to rethink their planning and
This looks likely to be a tough task. A total of 20 per cent of
respondents said that the success of their efforts could not be
evaluated; this included 23 per cent of internal communications
specialists, 25 per cent of those working in community relations, 28 per
cent of those working in financial PR and 67 per cent of those working
in government relations.
As part of the Proof Survey, respondents were also asked to talk in
detail about which methods they believe can be used to plan and measure
their activities, and which of these they have actually used. These
responses included some significant disparities and omissions.
Not surprisingly, the most commonly used method across all disciplines
was media content analysis and press cuttings, closely followed by media
reach/OTS. It is interesting to note that 61 per cent of all respondents
said they have used the technique as a means of planning and evaluating
their campaigns, while just 34 per cent regard it as an effective tool
for convincing budget holders to part with their cash. This includes,
remarkably, more than three-quarters of the internal communications
specialists interviewed. Media content analysis and press cuttings was
quoted by 77 per cent of internal comms specialists as their favoured
method of evaluating their work, while only 38 per cent considered this
a suitable method for communicating their effectiveness to PR
budget-holders and decision makers.
However, long-term industry pressure to discourage use of Advertising
Value Equivalents (AVEs) seems to be bearing fruit. In comparison with a
PRCA survey in 1997 that revealed use of AVEs among 63 per cent of
practitioners, just nine per cent of respondents to the Proof Survey
named the technique as a measure they use.
Once you stray beyond the traditional boundaries of media analysis,
however, there is a significant falling off.
Less than one-third of all respondents spontaneously mentioned surveys
or polling as an R&E tool and alarmingly, less than one-third of
consumer PR practitioners named consumer surveys as a possible measure.
In the community relations field, for example, 44 per cent of
practitioners saying that they should be using consumer surveys but only
25 per cent actually do - one-third of respondents said they rely on
’gut feel’ and anecdotal information to judge the success of their
In addition, techniques such as focus groups were not widely popular -
only 22 per cent of consumer PR people quoted focus groups as a possible
tool for planning, with only 15 per cent actually making use of
Only five per cent of corporate PR practitioners viewed share or sales
price increases as an indicator of PR success. And, despite the efforts
of the Government to promote dialogue between local authorities and the
communities they serve, only 16 per cent of public sector respondents
said they believed interviews with target audiences to be useful for
’The survey highlights one of the greatest weaknesses in existing
practice - only three per cent have ever used pre-testing, a methodology
which the toolkit argues strongly for,’ points out Fairchild. ’How can
you develop messages for target audiences without knowing whether they
can be understood and actually work?’ he asks.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks to a more wide-ranging approach to
R&E appears to be that the perceived links between PR activity and the
bottom line need to be improved. While 91 per cent of respondents agreed
that a company’s reputation is a measurable asset, almost half felt that
PR activity is rarely tied into business objectives.
In addition, there is a direct contradiction between what people say are
the main advantages of R&E and what they do. All sectors stated that
showing the value of their activities and demonstrating how far
objectives have been met are key benefits of R&E. Yet when pushed, they
seemed unable to back this up with solid examples.
The future of evaluation
To ascertain how the PR industry feels about a set of common measurement
standards, the Proof Survey asked respondents what they think the main
obstacles to planning and evaluation to be. Surprisingly, around
one-third of business-to-business and consumer specialists cited lack of
definable measures and 23 per cent of all respondents pointed to lack of
time. However, the main complaint was the difficulty of obtaining
To examine this further, respondents were quizzed about selling
evaluation to clients, directors and sponsors. Almost half the
respondents actively said it was a problem. However, more than
three-quarters felt a set of common standards would make selling
measurement easier and more than 80 per cent welcomed the concept of an
But just what is the long-term commitment of the PR industry to planning
and evaluation? Are practitioners really going to make the best use of
the IPR and PRCA toolkit? ’I would welcome any kind of manual, but it
needs to be backed up by some kind of workshop,’ says one
Certainly among Government departments, this sort of talk has to be
When asked whether the PR industry needs to improve its evaluation
efforts, 50 per cent of public sector workers strongly agreed. Yet, in
response to their personal commitment to measuring activities, this
strength of feeling dropped to under one-third.
On a brighter note, in-house and agency staff were more positive and 85
per cent of overall respondents agreed they were personally committed to
evaluating their own efforts.
The final truth will come out in the real allocation of funds.
Significantly, a question designed to elicit the budget spend of
respondents’ most recent projects produced a high level of non-response.
Stephen Welch, head of market research at CARMA International says it is
not unusual to meet this level of resistance to probing about finances.
However, he is surprised by the number who shied away from revealing
what proportion of this budget was spent on evaluation. He thinks this
may be attributable in part to people who prefer to give no answer,
rather than a perceived negative.
Of those companies who did respond, the average spend was seven per cent
of total budget, although for most projects, this spend in real terms
amounted to little more than pounds 1,000.
CPN’s Woodcock says: ’It is painfully telling that 43 per cent of
respondents either refused or gave no answer when asked their evaluation
It rather implies they realise the wisdom themselves, but still need
help - and proof - to convince senior colleagues of the benefits of