Public Relations: A Question Of Measurement Methods

Mark RitsonSeptember 30, 20082603 min

Public Relations: A Question Of Measurement Methods

Of all the communication tools that a marketer can invest in, public relations is probably the most underrated.

PR is relatively cheap and is a wonderful method of providing information on a brand, while avoiding the clutter that so often reduces advertising impact. Yet it is a relatively minor ingredient in many integrated marketing plans.

The problem with PR is its invisibility. Unlike advertising or the internet there are no glossy prints, 30-second spots or 3-D graphics to point to as justification for the investment. Unlike sales promotions and direct marketing, there is no way of linking the amount invested in communications with that received in the form of increased sales. As a result, PR is often overlooked as an important and economic method of building a brand over time.

The PR industry itself has to accept responsibility for this situation because of the rather fluffy and unaccountable way in which it has promoted itself. In many instances PR agencies have been comfortable accepting a retainer from clients without ever offering any form of evaluation of their activities on behalf of that client.

In other PR agencies, a clippings file featuring all the stories that have run in the media will be offered. This is somewhat akin to a DM agency reviewing its performance by handing the client the mailshot it devised without any data on the impact it had on the target market.

More advanced PR agencies will cite the ‘advertising equivalency’ of the stories that have appeared in the media. This involves adding up the column inches of all the stories that emerged from a PR effort, then multiplying these inches by a mystical number between three and five that represents the fact that editorial has more impact than ads, and then calculating how much it would have cost to achieve the same coverage with advertising.

All of these methods are embarrassingly insufficient. Why should a client care how many stories have been generated or how much it would have cost to achieve the same column inches with ads? The reason for investing in PR, or any other form of marketing communications, is to positively impact the target market in question. It therefore follows that the only way to effectively demonstrate PR impact is not to measure the stimuli, but the effect – a benchmarked shift in consumer behavior.

It is rare for PR to directly impact sales, but it is often the optimum method for generating awareness of a brand or generating positive information about it. These variables can be measured prior to a PR campaign and then measured again at the end of the campaign. Any positive shift can then be attributed to the campaign.

Even better, a forward-thinking agency would dispense of the retainer system and agree with the client some goals for the PR campaign. It would then index its remuneration to its ability to deliver the promised shift.

No PR agency in the land should be allowed to get away with a clippings file or advertising equivalency. It is time for PR professionals to improve their strategic and measurement skills and do justice to the communication tool they have undersold.

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Mark Ritson

One comment

  • ann tracy

    October 4, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Having worked as a radio journalist for 10 years, I’m now a freelance PR person as well as a digital artist. You’re right on about PR, but it does take time and right now, with newspapers reducing editorial content, it’s much more difficult.

    so the idea of some kind of measurement system before and after a campaign is a good one. But what if the PR is on-going? How could that be measured? year by year?

    Another problem you did not cite was that editors are getting more pop-oriented and relegate the arts to a back page position.

    Any advice for arts PR with these problems?

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