Guesses aren't good enough... Evaluating PR

There is a saying in communications circles that the first step to improving the effectiveness of your communications strategy is to realise that you are wasting half of your budget, and the next step is to work out which half. Although this is certainly exaggeration for effect, the old adage does make a very important point about public relations. PR is not an exact science. We all know that it works, otherwise organisations around the world wouldn't spend the billions of pounds or dollars on it that they do. It allows organisations to communicate with their audiences effectively, build trust and respect and ultimately achieve their aims and objectives in an amenable environment. But the difficulty is quantifying its impact.

Organisations, whether they are small businesses, not-for-profit bodies, public sector organisations or large corporations, need to have evidence that their PR function is making a real impact. They need to see that they are getting good value for the money they are investing. But it isn't easy and many businesses and practitioners won't know where to start.

In addition to not knowing how to do it, one of the main barriers to effectively evaluating public relations work is cost. Evaluative research can be expensive, as well as time consuming, and organisations don't generally want to pay for it. However, the fact is that PR can be successfully evaluated and when built into an overall strategic plan, evaluative research will increase its effectiveness, which in the long-run is going to save money. And that's a language that organisations everywhere should understand.

So how is it done? Well there are various techniques that can be employed, ranging from media content analysis to market research and opinion surveys. But the first and most important step in seeking to evaluate any and every programme or campaign should be to recognise that PR cannot be a shot in the dark; a scattergun approach will not work. Guesses and ‘gut feeling' simply won't do. PR needs to be strategic and practised with as much precision as possible.

From the outset, practitioners must plan to systematically measure the outcomes of their project based on the extent to which objectives have been achieved. This means setting measurable objectives, devising a strategy to meet them and then assessing how far the campaign has gone to fulfilling them.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) emphasised this need to build evaluation into a PR programme or campaign from the outset in their acclaimed Research and Evaluation Toolkit. The main thrust of the Toolkit is a five stage process:

  1. Audit: Gathering existing data in order to set a good brief.
  2. Objectives: Setting out measurable PR objectives with a definite timescale, based on the audit and the organisation's objectives.
  3. Strategy/Plan: Developing a strategy or plan based on the objectives.
  4. Measurement and Evaluation: Testing how far the strategy or plan is helping attain the objectives and adjusting it if necessary.
  5. Results: A thorough appraisal at the end of the PR programme or campaign of whether the objectives have been met.
A systematic approach like this one will take time and money but it will no doubt increase the effectiveness of any PR strategy. Only in this way is it really possible to ensure that a PR campaign is as precise as possible and that value for money is being achieved.

In no other area of business would guesses and ‘gut feeling' be accepted as a gauge of effectiveness, and PR should be no different. PR may not be an exact science but it can be pretty precise. So while there may be organisations across Yorkshire wasting huge chunks of their PR budget through inefficient and imprecise planning and delivery, with the an approach like the one outlined above, you can be sure that yours won't be one of them.

Author:.

Co-founder of training firm, Mission International Ltd, Justin is a sought after coach, teacher and trainer. Justin delivers interactive workshops globally for corporate and not-for-profit organizations. This includes team development, leadership and communications training for Europe's best business school, HEC Paris, Invesco and VMware.

He has collaborated on significant published research in the field of human systems. Justin counsels with senior executives at organizations including the ...

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