PR Insight

How to make sure your PR campaigns are effective

Date: 06 February 2013 11:16

PR is a people business, not a number business. But when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of what you do, statistics can’t be ignored. But they are not the be-all and end-all of measurement. Paul Noble, public relations trainer and co-author of Evaluating Public Relations, says that whatever you call them – analytics, metrics, numbers – they play a role in the evaluation of public relations, but don't do the whole job on their own: “Expressing what we do in numbers translates what we do into terms that the rest of the organisation/client can understand. They also provide a baseline, starting point, so that progress can be measured, and help provide context by benchmarking that progress against others in a similar position.

“One crucial point is that frequently these numbers have little meaning in absolute terms. But comparative figures can indicate that things are going in the right direction. Also, as with research in general, best practice with evaluation demands a mixture of the quantitative and qualitative: not only the bare bones of what is happening, but some flesh as to why it is happening.”

To illustrate this, Noble describes how the measurement OTS (opportunities to see) is frequently used to give some idea of reach. However, this needs to be balanced with a look at tone and message delivery to give an idea of not just the breadth of delivery, but the quality of it. He concludes: “The problem with OTS is in the word ‘opportunity’ – nothing about the message hitting home.”

There is no magic bullet when it comes to measuring PR. As Maxine Ambrose, joint managing partner at agency Ambrose Communications, says: “What can make it confusing for PROs, both in-house and agency, is the plethora of tools available, ranging from the free and inefficient through to the expensive and complicated.“ Ambrose says that her agency has decided to use a variety of methods because “none of them are a complete answer in their own”. Also, analytics, and in particular online analytics, are constantly evolving so the tools that work today, may be out of date tomorrow.

Case study

Marcus Gault, managing director, insight division at research firm Precise, describes how social media can be analysed to discover the types of online campaigns that succeed:

“Social media provides new measures that, in addition to the more traditional metrics we are familiar with, can help prove the worth of PR. We can now hear direct from the intended audience whether PR is having the desired effect.

“This applies not just to PR, but to any activity intended to build awareness and win hearts and minds. For instance, we recently analysed the response to the What Car? Car of the Year Awards to see what effect winning had for the award winners. Our analysis found that the Audi A3 Sportback, which won the What Car? Car of the Year award, gained the most mentions of any vehicle awarded on the night. This is important given that the more conversations that are generated by an activity, the greater its likely impact.

“Quality of conversations matters as much as quantity. Following last year’s awards, the Reader's Choice winner – the Jaguar C-X16 – attracted the most positive conversations of any of the award winners in the months after its win.

“In this case, then, social media analysis suggests demonstrates that the What Car? awards do appear to have an impact on winning hearts and minds. The same approach can be used to augment measures based on column inches, favourability of coverage and equivalent value, to help demonstrate the effectiveness of PR activity.“

What is the best way to measure PR?

Tom Watson, professor of PR at Bournemouth University:

“In 1992, I did a survey on IPR members’ attitudes to the measurement of PR effectiveness. Among the answers were: ‘The best evaluation of results is when the client is pleased, satisfied, happy and renews the contract. All else is meaningless‘; ‘PR is not a science; most practitioners are inadequate; clients are too thick.’; and ‘Too busy doing PR to evaluate it. Don’t know how to evaluate it.’ That was 20 years ago. I wonder if much has changed?”

Natalie Luke, managing director of agency Aduro Communications:

“The best tool to measure the effectiveness of our work has to be an independent evaluation agency. An objective viewpoint is crucial to gain a client’s trust in an agency and for us to sell back the value of our work to internal stakeholders. Focusing on key qualitative impact measures including key message and audience delivery coupled with a measurement criteria pulled together with the client at the start of the campaign forms the basis of establishing the success of a programme and helps identify key learnings for the next stage in delivery.”

Written by Daney Parker

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    The PR industry's failure to take measurement -- and more importantly, insight -- seriously has cost it tens if not hundreds of £ millions of income. Digital agencies have sprung up and prospered in the new online and social media world, taking business from what could and should have largely been owned by the PR industry. Tom Watson is spot-on. The PR industry should be concerned by the impact of its work on consumers and other stakeholders but remains fixated on generating volumes of coverage regardless of whether this is having any effect or not. Agencies that recognise and embraces this will prosper but there aren't too many of them around.

    Name: Mark Westaby
    Date: 08 Feb 2013 09:37 AM

    Mark, unless you know more than I do, I'm going to take that 21 year old survey with a pinch of salt until its clear that the sample size was statistically valid and representative of the entire PR sector (the CIPR certainly isn’t); whether these extracted results that painted such a dim picture of PR practitioners back then were themselves representative. I’m slightly more optimistic that a survey that conformed to MRS standards, done today, would show a big uplift in rigour, understanding and practice.

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 08 Feb 2013 04:45 PM

    I'm going to have to disagree with you, Andy. Our experience is that remarkably little's changed over the past 20 years and I've seen at least one big survey that reveals the use of AVEs continues to be widespread. Had the industry addressed these issues properly I'm convinced it would now be booming as the online and social media revolution continues to take over its traditional heartland. Overall, however, it just hasn't adapted and has now almost certainly missed the boat, with a handful of exceptions.

    Name: Mark Westaby
    Date: 11 Feb 2013 01:10 PM

    Mark, by all means disagree with me - agreement is not obligatory! You have to speak as you find and your comments are valid from that perspective. My point is that, taken in the widest context (not just CIPR members, not just agencies, not just the UK) PR practitioners have definitely lifted their game in 20 years. I don't share your pessimistic view that PR agencies have 'lost out' to others; some have and some haven’t. How else can we explain all the multiple sector indicators that show double digit growth with more forecast to come? Take your pick of these from the PRSA's website tab 'PR by the Numbers'.

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 11 Feb 2013 04:59 PM

    OTS is a con, AVEs are a con. We as an industry have been complicit in a deception going back decades. For proof read the quote from Tom Watson re: his 1992 study. The era of big data coupled with a deep and prolonged recession has found PR out. Nokia today said that it's employing city analyists to evaluate the social media opportunity. Sub text being it doesn't trust PRs to do it. Quite rightly. As an industry we have to act quickly put in place rigourous, 3rd party measurement frameworks that go far beyond coverage and look at business impact. If we don't, we have 10 years at best. We've tried to change but the efforts of AMEC and our industry bodies feels like Reg and the Peoples Front of's happening and we convene another meeting. What should PR do? Put measurement first not last. Hire data analysts, be honest when asked what we can and can't do and pull in the experts when needed. The big one for me is understand that the media is a channel not the audience, our jobs are not done when a badly photocopied clippings book gathers dust in a reception somewhere in Berkshire. Think like marketers and realise the impact of social and big data, think like CEOs and CFOs and understand PR budgets have to deliver to the business as well as the PR manager,

    Name: Paul Wooding
    Date: 12 Feb 2013 01:27 PM

    Completely, 100% right, Paul. Just this morning we've had a meeting with a massive brand's insight team, with the comms person in attendance. This brand "gets it" and insight's effectively driving their social media analysis. Most of our client contacts are insight, brand or marketing people because they recognise that doing this properly requires expertise over and above the PR department, which only uses monitoring tools that reveal very little, if anything about impact on audiences. PR has to embrace new, sophisticated approaches -- dare I say such as ours -- that go beyond volume and "favourability", which tell you virtually nothing.

    Name: Mark Westaby
    Date: 12 Feb 2013 02:03 PM

    I think there is a danger of being too black and white in this debate. Undoubtedly there are pockets of good practice and areas of poor practice. I’ve just put together the program for our PR Analytics conference, so I’d like to think I have a decent handle on this. My first point would be that real change, and by that I mean PR people prioritising measurement, will be led by in house PR people. I just don’t believe that en masse PR agencies are going to be the drivers for change in the PR measurement debate. I think these things tend to be led by the customer. My other point would be that I think it is dangerous to assume that PR is alone in not measuring its impact as robustly as it should. Advertising has long since had difficulties in proving its ROI. Thirdly, there is a danger that measurement only looks as things in hindsight, I believe 50% of the benefit of analytics are that they help you plan and react to what’s going on. And finally, it’s just not true that there is a complete vacuum of good analytical work happening in public relations. I know for a fact that brands like Unilever, O2, Oxfam and Ebay have good PR analytics/insight models that help them measure the impact of their PR. There is a movement of change happening when it comes to PR analytics; it is an area that I believe is now being prioritised.

    Name: Ben Smith
    Date: 12 Feb 2013 03:35 PM

    Well said Ben. The old maxim that clients get what they deserve from their agencies still holds true it seems!

    Name: Andy M Turner
    Date: 12 Feb 2013 03:40 PM

    And therein lies a big part of the problem to which Tom Watson was referring, Ben (and Andy). The PR consultancy's role is to give the best possible advice to clients, which should always include measurement; and as you say, Ben, this should always be with a view to feeding results back into the planning process to drive continuous improvement. There are solid business reasons for doing this because it demonstrates the real value of work the agency's doing so even if this has to be paid for out of the agency's budget it's well worth their while to do so. But because few agencies know how to do measurement properly this rarely happens; and when it does it's nearly always about coverage generated, when it should be about audience impact. The end result is a vicious circle and an industry failing to achieve its true potential. As for advertising, it's absolutely correct to say this industry also has issues with measurement. But these are nothing in comparison to PR. I should stress, btw, that I'm saying these things because I know that PR works and I genuinely believe the PR industry could and should be leading the social media revolution. My job is to help clients understand how they can make their marketing and communication more effective even if this includes things they'd prefer not to hear. That goes for the PR industry as well.

    Name: Mark Westaby
    Date: 13 Feb 2013 09:57 AM

    For me, social media is a measurement tool in itself. If I think back ten years or so, to when I did my IPR training, we were taught that you did an awareness poll before your campaign and an awareness campaign after it. Now, with social media, that awareness poll is ongoing - it's happening all the time. The conversations being had are the clue as to whether your PR has been effective or not.

    Name: Simon Fletcher

    Date: 13 Feb 2013 11:28 AM

    That's absolutely right, Simon. We have a number of clients who use us to track TV advertising this way rather than using traditional sample-based methods because it's real-time, provides greater insight and is significantly cheaper. We can also break findings out demographically and geographically, right down to individual towns and cities. This is exactly the way that PR campaigns could be tracked and I'll be talking about this at PRMoment's analytics event at the end of Feb. Hope you'll come along!

    Name: Mark Westaby
    Date: 13 Feb 2013 11:37 AM

    Will definitely try and make that. Dates and times available on Twitter? (Let's practise what we preach... :-))

    Name: Simon Fletcher

    Date: 13 Feb 2013 11:46 AM

    Measurement progress IS happening. Clients and brands are demanding accountability and the good PR teams are responding. There is more discussion and action surrounding measurement now than 20 years ago. And, I have to say, PR may not be a science, but that doesn't mean we can't take a scientific approach to evaluation. Data driven PR strategy should be the ultimate goal.

    Name: Kristin Jones
    Date: 15 Mar 2013 11:05 AM

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