PR Evaluation: Reality or Pipe Dream?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Future Challenges

It is increasingly acknowledged that the evaluation of public relations programmes requires a mix of techniques. A set of mutually consistent methodologies needs to be developed, from which practitioners can choose according to the circumstances. Public Relations evaluation, in fact, requires a more sophisticated analysis. As Cutlip et al. note “The most common error in programme evaluation is substituting measures from one level for those at another level”. The challenge is to establish and define the range of tools that will form the public relations professional’s future evaluation toolkit. Quantitative and qualitative methods should be used in combination and provide valuable insights into PR results. Public relations practitioners need to adopt a progressive, consecutive approach to measurement and evaluation and develop the necessary skills for collecting data and conducting appropriate research. Standardizing evaluation methods remains a problematic issue in the industry, mainly due to the inability of PR practitioners and scholars to reach to an agreement on how it could be effectively applied. Evaluation is and will continue to be a “hot topic” in public relations theory and practice, until generally accepted ways are found to finally provide evidence of PR’s contribution to results.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Steps to success

I believe that the first step to successful implementation of evaluation is the common understanding and acceptance of the terminology of evaluation. The terms: outputs, outtakes and outcomes should have the same meaning for everyone. Output is what PR has delivered, e.g. the number of press cuttings. Outtake is the degree to which an audience is aware of and has understood the message. Outcome is the change in people’s opinions, attitudes and behaviours.
Pr practitioners should also realize that they are dependent upon the credibility of the top management. PR should be perceived as effective and its efforts to be seen as contributing to the fulfillment of management goals. Tixier (1995) noted for PR: “To exist and survive, it is important to prove that it is both useful and beneficial”. For this reason more weight should be laid on the use of evaluating techniques. Setting specific and measurable objectives can be really helpful to the process. It must be underlined that practitioners should do evaluative research not only after the end of the campaign, but also during planning. This could give them an important advantage. The view about evaluation should change. Evaluation is meant to be continuous. Tactics and plans must be frequently measured, and according to the feedback reconsidered and changed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

PR Toolkit

As I mentioned yesterday, the IPR along with the PRCA, AMEC and PR week created in 1999 the PR Toolkit, a framework of measurable objectives to encourage a wide audience to rethink their planning and evaluation techniques (written by Michael Fairchild). As noted in PR Week by Kate Nicholas (30/04/1999), “this practical guide to R&E moves the debate beyond why measure, to how to measure. The toolkit recognizes the diversity of the disciplines known generically as PR, the range of audiences with which one interacts and the way in which PR is expected to interact with other disciplines”. The Toolkit suggests a sequence of five steps as part of the planning process:
1. Audit of existing communications and background,
2. Constructing of objectives,
3. Strategy and planning,
4. Ongoing Measurement and
5. Results and Evaluation.
The Toolkit puts emphasis on the fact that there is no single industry-wide-measure, but there is a wide variety of tools available. As Lindenmann (1993) already noticed some years ago, “there is no one simplistic method for measuring PR effectiveness…an array of different tools and techniques is required to properly assess PR impact”.
The disappointing thing is that 5 years after, there is no actual change in the attitude of the practitioners towards evaluation. A PR Week 2004 Survey showed that 68% of companies spend 3% or less of their PR budget on evaluation and only 4% of respondents allocate at least 10%. Furthermore, 46% of respondents said they rely on gut feel to assess campaigns’ effectiveness – a rise of 13% over the past five years. Meanwhile, 30% of respondents said they use AVE, up from 9% in 1999
. The results of the survey are not exactly encouraging. That’s why the trend for understanding how to evaluate and why, and establishing a standard evaluation system is still on.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Proof Campaign

PR Week magazine has conducted also many surveys on evaluation. Its Proof Campaign, launched in 1998, is one of the attempts made from many associations to establish commonly acceptable methods of evaluating PR results. Aim of the campaign was to encourage companies to allocate 10% of their budgets to research and evaluation. “The IPR, the PRCA, the Public Relations Standards Forum (PRSF) and the Association of Media Evaluation Companies (AMEC) agreed to join forces to produce definitive best practice guidelines for the use of research and evaluation within the industry”, which would take the form of a toolkit (PR Week, Suzan, Leavy, 6/11/1998)
In 1999, the Proof survey was the first to compare the views of agency, in-house and public sector practitioners. “PR Week decided to try to establish a more detailed picture, not only of how practitioners working in different PR disciplines view, but also how they use, the different R&E methodologies available to them”. According to the survey, a total of 20% of respondents said that the success of their efforts could not be evaluated. “The most commonly used method across all disciplines was media content analysis and press cuttings, closely followed by media reach/OTS. It is interesting to note that 61% of all respondents said they have used the technique as a means of planning and evaluating their campaigns, while just 34% regard it as an effective tool” (
PR Week, Cowlett and Nicholas, 12/03/1999). The results of this survey depict the real attitude of practitioners towards evaluation.
This lack of standardization has led many PR consultancies and in-house PR departments to create their own evaluation tools, like for example Kaizo consultancy or Hewlett Packard, which has even published a report “Measuring Media Relations”, containing 148 ways in which PR can be measured.