It’s Summertime and PR Value Measurement Still Isn’t Easy

Dear fellow PR practitioners, we are living in the 21st century and working amid clients whose marketing departments and advertising agencies research every aspect of their product development and marcom programs before committing budgets to communications programs.

And what do we rely on to evaluate our success in delivering client messages to key influentials via the media? Clipping books and intuition. That’s right, of all the measurement tools employed over the past two years, of the 4,200 PR pros polled in “The 2001 Media Relations Reality Check” survey, half of our fellows trust “intuition” or “gut feel” to measure the results of their publicity efforts, while over 80 percent prefer to provide results to management by presenting clip books and tapes as proof of their success.

The study was sponsored by a consortium of companies with a stake in the issue, including The Public Relations Standards Council, Bulldog Reporter, QuickSilver Interactive Group, the PR measurement software firm TrakWare Inc., and Publicity Valuation Research Inc.

What we are left with is that old sinking feeling that PR firms rarely find themselves blessed with the budgets for adequate message measurement studies — for media coverage (offline or online), audience reach, attitudinal changes, stock valuation impact, leads, or sales generated. Instead, we still rely on toted-up numbers (circulation/audience/clicks, pass-along readership, audience demographics) and concocted valuations (advertising cost equivalencies, magical editorial credibility multipliers) as proof of our communications pudding.

And with over two-thirds of respondents reporting that media relations measurement budgets are less than the 10 percent of total program budgets that PR industry leaders encourage, one should not expect to see changes any time soon.

What other techniques, beyond a giggle and a guess, are PR pros using to measure publicity success? Audience impressions (38 percent), content analysis (37 percent), and ad equivalency reports (33 percent) are the most frequently cites tools. Next down the list come audience surveys and focus groups (26 percent), sales or share price tracking (24 percent), the credibility multiplier (19 percent), and interactive chat rooms tracking (10 percent).

Actually, we find that much attention is paid to measurement of one kind or another. Why, we wonder, did 89 percent answer “to improve communications planning,” 86 percent “to establish use of key messages,” and 81 percent “to prove the value of public relations”? Slightly more than half of those surveyed (57 percent) cited “to benchmark against the competition.”

It is a shame that the benchmarking function was listed last, especially with the current craze for the practice across other industry functions, and worse still is that benchmarking one’s own media relations efforts was not even considered. I for one would welcome the budget to compare media coverage for a given client over several years, especially if PR agency changes had taken place. For here is one of the key tools to evaluate the PR program itself to determine whether an effort is succeeding, growing, or losing impact over time.

And, finally, the survey turned to its raison d’jtre, asking participants to share their experiences, positive or negative, with media relations evaluation providers or measurement software. Most were concerned with the difficulty of obtaining clippings on a timely basis, the high cost of media monitoring, or the fuzzy nature of some new measurement methodologies.

Still, without an industry-wide measurement standard, practitioners are left alone to provide the bosses (management) with numbers they can understand and budget against. However, as we see clients across the board chopping their PR budgets, one should not expect a sea change in the near future.

Until then, I suppose one must settle for the correct spelling of key executives’ and company names and the publication of live URLs, links, email addresses, and phone numbers so that positive buzz finds its way home to the client.

(About “The 2001 Media Relations Reality Check” survey: 80 percent of respondents claim at least four years’ PR experience, 32 percent work for PR firms (of those, 37 percent work for PR firms with 25 or more employees), 27 percent work for corporations, and 21 percent work for nonprofits; the confidence level is 90 percent, and the margin of error is 5 percent.)

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