Surveys which set out to prove the effectiveness of public relations are
usually commissioned by the PR industry itself. As such, they tend to be
received with a healthy dollop of scepticism by the outside world.
The latest survey of client marketers from the Institute of
Practitioners in Advertising is therefore a welcome surprise. The survey
was intended to assess the effectiveness of advertising. But an
intriguing side effect is how good the results are for PR.
More than half of the respondents had a annual marketing expenditure of
more than pounds 20 million. No small fry these. When asked about the
relative importance of various communications disciplines, 94 per cent
said PR is ‘very’ or ‘quite’ important to their business - only two
points behind the figure for consumer advertising. Moreover, the score
for PR has leapt ahead dramatically since the last survey two years ago.
But not all the results make such encouraging reading. When it comes to
the ability to measure the effectiveness of different disciplines, PR
lags dismally in fourth place, with a measly four per cent professing
themselves ‘very satisfied’ with evaluation methods. In other words,
marketers know PR is important, but they wish they knew exactly how
important it is.
PR’s inexorable rise up the marketing ladder is also reflected in the
views of the leaders of global marketing services groups, canvassed for
this week’s feature on page 14.
Sorrell, Meyer, Seelert and co are certainly aware of the added value
that PR can bring to their global offering. As such groups redefine
themselves in a quest to become more client focused, it is clear that PR
will be an increasingly important part of the mix.
But neither they, nor the clients on whom they are focusing their
attentions, will continue to be impressed by a discipline which cannot
provide better proof of its own effectiveness. Clients will continue to
fight shy of concentrating more resources on PR if that tangible proof
just isn’t there.
Part of the problem is the relatively high cost of evaluation in
comparison with the PR it is measuring. But the responses of clients
indicate that the climate is right for change.
They also say they feel bewildered by the multiplicity of measurement
methods foisted on them. All the more timely then, that a standard unit
for media measurement is being developed by a PR industry think-tank,
headed by Raymond Wilson of Norwich Union, the National Dairy Council’s
Peter Crowe, and QBO’s Quentin Bell. It is not the whole solution, but
it is a promising start.