Congratulations to PR Week for taking up the measurement issue with
your Proof campaign. It is almost 25 years to the day since the
four-year study I sponsored at Burson-Marsteller, which was carried out
by Kingston University, on the effectiveness of public relations
published its report.
The study team created a computer model that might have done the job if
the variables had not been too numerous to make it unworkable.
The problems were two-fold. To get an accurate reading, data was needed
on every variable. On the product side, we needed to know: the variation
in distribution; the variations in POS material and display; the
variations in advertising message and the effectiveness of each regional
The cost of collecting the data was enormous.
The second problem was the two-stage effect. Opinion-leader attitudes
had to be researched as an extra variable if comparative effectiveness
was to be measured.
The model looked nice but we decided at that time that even if we took
the variables and inserted average norms this was placing us miles away
from the advertising industry who simply took credit for every increase
in awareness and ignored everything else.
We opted for the reductionist approach. We broke the PR campaign into
the smallest units: an exhibition, a feature article, a conference, then
researched one sample of each activity against a control and multiplied
the data as an average for all similar events in the programme. It was a
step forward, but few clients were prepared to pay for it.
Then we had the good fortune to win a client with vision. Unilever told
us to use advertising methods because its marketing teams would
understand them. We created penetration figures, OTS data based upon a
single insertion, then multiplied this against reading and noting
figures, comparing editorial with advertising. This was correlated and
compared in budgetary terms with advertising against market research
that included psychographic assessments.
It was a step towards measuring impact, not just exposure.
The results made Unilever’s Flora margarine programme one of the most
successful PR programmes in the FMCG field. It was taken seriously
because the PR budget was in excess of a million pounds and the client
wanted to know where the cash was going.
Since then much good work has been done in content analysis by CARMA,
Report International, Media Measurement and others, but few have linked
the exposure element to the impact on target audiences with any
As the driving force of PR moves inexorably towards the moving image,
with television and the internet taking over as one of the key factors
in our business, I now find myself leading a task force at Bulletin
International developing new techniques for measuring television
effectiveness on a worldwide scale.
Thanks to PR Week, in five years’ time we will see a revolution in our
business. By overlaying data on the screen we will be able to write
programmes with the same precision as an advertising media director,
check the results and, in all probability show that PR has a greater and
more lasting impact than chucking the same amount of money into bought
Reginald Watts, chairman, Bulletin International.