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How to make sure your PR campaigns are effective

6th February 2013

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 Also, analytics, and in particular online analytics, are constantly evolving so the tools that work today, may be out of date tomorrow.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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