THE PROOF CAMPAIGN: A unified front - Major industry players at PR Week’s Proof forum have joined forces to establish best practice guidelines for use of research and evaluation . Suzan Leavy reports

When PR Week launched its Proof campaign in February 1998, its aim was to encourage clients, consultancies and in-house practitioners to dedicate ten per cent of the overall PR budget to formal pre-planning research and evaluation of results.

When PR Week launched its Proof campaign in February 1998, its aim

was to encourage clients, consultancies and in-house practitioners to

dedicate ten per cent of the overall PR budget to formal pre-planning

research and evaluation of results.

Although most people within the industry agree that better planning and

evaluation is crucial to the future success of PR, straw poll research

carried out by PR Week revealed that the current commitment in real

terms amounts to less than five per cent of most PR budgets. And those

in sectors with smaller budgets, such as charity PR, find it even

tougher to justify the allocation of funds to this function.

Concern within the industry about this lack of commitment to

accountability has been mounting with a raft of new initiatives recently

announced by the Institute of Public Relations (IPR), the Public

Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and a newly-formed body The

Public Relations Standards Council which is examining the possibility of

establishing a quality kitemark for PR effectiveness.

The IPR has recent established its own evaluation taskforce, headed by

Shandwick Welbeck chief executive Alison Clarke, to look at the creation

of research and evaluation guidelines and best practice case studies for

use of different R&E methodologies across a range of campaigns.

The PRCA has similar concerns and has also come up with the idea of

producing a ’tool kit’ for all practitioners which would include

guidelines on managing evaluation.

While welcoming these new initiatives PR Week was aware that the

development of several parallel projects might diminish their overall

impact, and consequently offered to host a forum featuring the major

players in the drive for research and evaluation standards, in a bid to

try and establish common ground between the initiatives and to formulate

a strategy and timetable for a single campaign.

A number of people working in the industry both for consultancies and

in-house were also invited to act as devil’s advocate in the discussion

of any solutions. Noelle McElhatton of the Market Research Society’s

Research magazine covered the event.

The IPR taskforce was represented by Alison Clarke, the PRCA by its

chairman Adrian Wheeler and the Public Relations Standards Council by

its chair Roger Haywood.

The Association of Media Evaluation Companies (AMEC) which launches a

web site this month, was also keen to lend its support to the campaign

and contribute to the debate.

The absence of an industry standard emerged as one of the biggest

barriers to client acceptance of research and evaluation. What

immediately became clear from the debate was that clients are confused

about methodologies.

They do not appear to understand the multitude of different research and

evaluation techniques on offer and all parties agreed there was a danger

of various separate industry initiatives clouding the issue still

further. ’Clients are not obliged to spend on research and evaluation

and PR budgets will only grow if we can show how effective our work is,’

said Wheeler. ’Nobody should spend corporate money without knowing

exactly how to evaluate a comparative return on investment.’

AMEC chair Sandra Macleod also flagged up the fact that media evaluation

should not be allowed to overshadow other techniques.

’When we established the association our main remit was one of education

and demystification. There are so many ways to measure PR - media

evaluation is just part of that and we are realistic about that. We deal

with management education. Ultimately we have to educate management on

what they can expect and how they can expect it to be measured,’ she

said. ’It is important to pull together what the users and the

industry’s requirements are and then decide how the professional

associations can respond to that.’

As part of this education process, the members of the forum agreed that

producing a single ’tool kit’ of best practice guidelines of research

and evaluation would form the first stage in setting an industry


It was agreed that the objective of the exercise would be to show how

measurement can improve the quality of PR and its return on investment

and that the tool kit should cover best practice and objective


’I know that a lot of people know they need to use research and

evaluation but are not sure about how to manage that process. The tool

kit should also give assistance on the setting of corporate objectives.

This guide must be a total process to provide help and advice for all

ranges of budget and sophistication,’ said Clarke.

’It should be a thing that the whole industry can embrace. Once it is

finalised, whatever it is should be a living, breathing working document

or dossier with an on-line capability so that it can be improved upon,’

she said.

’It should feature legitimate methods of research and evaluation and, at

the first stage at least, it should be eclectic, inclusive, open to all

methods and able to be easily distributed to members and their clients

as a way for people to get started,’ added Wheeler.

A smaller working party made up of representatives of the IPR, PRCA,

AMEC, the Public Relations Standards Council plus research company MORI,

in-house practitioners and Michael Fairchild author of ICO’s publication

How to Get Real Value From Public Relations have agreed to bring a first

draft of guidelines to the table on 23 November. The group has decided

to adhere to the PRCA’s original deadline for their own initiative of

May 1999 for the planned publication.

However, Roger Haywood, chairman of the Public Relations Standards

Council believes that the tool kit idea is only a first step and should

eventually lead to a Proof standards mark by which the whole of the PR

industry will be judged by business in future. And he warned that the

Proof forum should not become bogged down in detail and must be prepared

to look at the bigger picture.

’Our aim is to endorse the IPR, PRCA and Market Research Society


I believe that a lot of the material that we need to present as a

standard already exists. What our industry needs above all is

credibility. I think we have a responsibility to those who pay us,’ said


The PRSC has also spoken to a number of other bodies which have an

interest in PR performance such as the Institute of Marketing, the

Institute of Directors and the Incorporated Society of British


’We need something which can give a tangible measure about which there

can be little argument. We also have to look at accountability as

performance relates to the role, the accountability, the responsibility

and the positioning of PR in an organisation,’ said Haywood.

The concept of a best practice tool kit and that of consulting other

related industries were backed by both Paul Noble of Bournemouth

University and Anne Gregory, head of the school of business strategy at

Leeds Metropolitan University. ’It will take a long time to tackle

organisational structures so we need to be careful about the terms we

use. If we can get people trained to use a tool kit then they could

demonstrate the value of PR within their organisations, and then the

bigger opportunities will come along,’ said Gregory.

’PR is a crucial part of the mix, but PR by itself doesn’t achieve

anything so I think it is very important that we learn from other

professions,’ added Noble.

Integration became a recurring theme for the evening. ’What worried us

about some recent research we carried out was that 53 per cent of people

we interviewed still think of PR as free advertising. The first thing we

have to do is stop fighting with each other and move forward,’ said Mark

Westaby, managing director of Metrica. ’We need to measure PR against

business objectives and use people such as AMEC to define best


We, as suppliers, have a responsibility to give better,’ he said.

Victoria Tomlinson of Harrogate-based agency Northern Lights claimed

that the campaign has valuable lessons to learn from the way Investors

in People established itself as the ’kitemark’ to measure business goals

against training. ’We need to start that process of linking PR back to

business goals, so that this can become a business kitemark, not just a

PR industry kitemark. In that way we can position ourselves as business

people not PR people,’ said Tomlinson. ’But we need to be sure that when

we are talking about methodologies we are not turning off the smaller

campaigns and businesses.’

The Proof forum has already attracted coverage in the Times and BBC’s

Business Breakfast and Martin Loat, of Propeller Marketing

Communications, said that from the smaller agencies’ point of view a

visible PR campaign for the Proof initiative could also stir clients’

interest and make them more aware of the need for evaluation.

’The biggest obstacle I find is in getting clients to actually come to

the table so that I can try to explain to them why they should be

willing to invest in research and evaluation. Some sort of draft code

would give me something to show clients the necessity of it,’ he


But Kim Fernihough, head of PR and communications at Avon Cosmetics,

warned that the tool kit and PR standard would have to be equally

relevant to, and address the concerns of, in-house practitioners as well

if it was to be embraced by the entire industry. She claimed that

in-house people face a tough task in securing a budget for research and

evaluation when faced with competition from colleagues in other

disciplines from within the marketing mix.

’I feel it is time to persuade my marketing colleagues that best

practice is to integrate all parts of PR, marketing and direct mail. I

need to know that this is an industry standard so that I can say: ’this

is what my colleagues in the industry all believe in and subscribe to

and sign up to’ so that I have that kind of credibility internally,’ she


But Michael Fairchild got to the crux of the matter when he said: ’There

is no debate about what the tools should be but the person missing from

the debate is the client. My concern is that PR practitioners will be

embracing this as a defensive device.

So, in conclusion, PR Week agreed to convene a client panel under the

umbrella of the Proof campaign which will advise on the forthcoming

guidelines on best practice and the proposed kitemark for PR

effectiveness - thereby subjecting Proof to the ultimate litmus test.

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