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
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,’
’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.