As a result of PR Week leading the way in the current debate about
evaluation in PR practice, readers should have no doubts that evaluation
is an important issue in the acceptance of PR as an essential business
It may therefore seem heretical to suggest that the continuing emphasis
on evaluation is now working against the further development of the
The debate on evaluation has rumbled on among practitioner circles for
more than 20 years and now seems to have more to do with finding
justification and esteem for the industry than with its progress.
Questions about the value of evaluation have already been answered many
times over. The PRCA, ICO and IPRA all recently produced guidelines and
monographs. Going back further, to 1984, Burson-Marsteller dealt with
questions of evaluation in an excellent paper entitled ’What’s the
Impact?’, Walter Lindenmann, vice-president of research with Ketchum PR
in New York, has also discussed the topic exhaustively over the years.
He is now working on yet another taskforce on evaluation with the Public
Relations Society of America.
Lindenmann recognised over ten years ago - in the December 1988 issue of
the PRSA’s journal - that ’the hunt for the best (evaluation) research
techniques has yielded the cold, hard truth that PR programmes are not
easy to measure’.
Nevertheless, PR can be measured and in the work done at that time and
since, it’s been shown that there are evaluation methods which work.
Content analysis is but one, and the social sciences are rich in methods
which can be applied to PR, which is in essence an applied
But evaluation is not easy, as Lindenmann recognised. It depends on
setting precise objectives, which themselves are derived from a thorough
analysis of what is to be achieved and what is possible. This is a
research exercise and doesn’t allow for sloppy thinking which may phrase
objectives in terms of changes to perception, attitudes or
Activities have to be thought completely through to their impact, to
what will happen or change as a result of PR work.
At the moment, evaluation tends to focus on intermediate measures, such
as the measurement of media content, or survey assessments of changes to
perceptions and attitudes. Interesting as these may be, they don’t tell
us directly about impact, behavioural change or hard business
Peter Hehir, chairman of Countrywide Porter Novelli, said at the time of
the publication of ICO’s standards for PR evaluation that we need to
focus on the objectives set for PR practice as a key to evaluation.
He’s right, but we need to go further, to concentrate on improving
management of PR activities.
To do this, we have to demystify PR, which is a management task like any
other. In other areas of management, analysis precedes and accompanies
the setting of objectives and adequate measures are applied to measuring
progress towards them.
Managers in other areas, who are perhaps more confident in their
territory, have recognised the difficulty of evaluation and work through
In PR, the time has come for us to do the same thing. It’s time to move
on from the search for evaluation methods, which already exist, to
applying these in terms of improvements to the quality of management in
Jon White is a consultant in management, organisation development and