Ahead of the Count

Article excerpt

Most of us have heard the old saying, "walk softly and carry a big stick". At Ketchum Public Relations they have a different creed. Make a lot of noise and carry a big stick - a big yardstick to be more precise.

Okay, it doesn't take Einstein to figure out that making a lot of noise refers to PR's role as a communicator, but what's with the yardstick? "PR needs to be accountable and this means we have to measure how well we have done our job," says Walter Lindenmann, Ketchum's US-based director of research and a senior vice president. "Most PR professionals break into a sweat when they start thinking about trying to evaluate what they do for a living. At Ketchum, we've tried to simplify the process by developing what we call a PR effectiveness yardstick" (see panel, opposite).

Certainly the issue of evaluating PR is not new, but how it's done has been a concern of late (Marketing, April 28). Adding up column inches from cuttings is no longer a sharp enough measurement instrument. But more sophisticated analysis was generally thought to come with a big price tag.

"Measuring public relations effectiveness does not have to be either unbelievably expensive nor laboriously time-consuming," claims Lindenmann. "Those who fall into this way of thinking are not approaching the problem in a logical, step-by-step manner and are probably trying to do everything all at once," he contends.

There are a number of independent bureaus in the UK that specialise in evaluating media should clients wish to steer away from having PR firms either evaluating their own work or work of their competitors. "Analytical principles are getting hi-jacked by PR companies who are more interested in demonstrating how well their PR activities work. But media analysis is about more than coverage generated specifically by PR consultancies. For example, some clients may want to avoid coverage," says Paul Georgiou, managing director of Impacon, an independent media analysis firm.

Another independent is CARMA International. "We have about 18 competitors in the UK ranging from press cutting companies that have diversified into rough quantitative analyses, to companies such as ours that conduct sophisticated, qualitative work that is more akin to consultative work," says CARMA's business development director, Peter Christopherson. CARMA has recently developed a new product called SEARCH which offers clients in-house access to a personalised media analysis. It's an interactive programme on a 3.5 inch diskette and contains all the information collected during CARMA's media evaluation. SEARCH allows the user to browse through articles at a later date, get instantaneous background information on journalists and issues, track media trends, and print charts on all data. Users can even key in their own notes on meetings and conversations for future reference. SEARCH is available from 250 [pounds], but that is after the initial media evaluation has been conducted and that can cost 1500 [pounds] to 2000 [pounds] depending on the evaluation. Infopress Communications is another independent evaluation bureau, which got its start as a division of PR company Infopress. "We are now completely separate from the PR consultancy, although 20% of our clients are also clients of Infopress," says managing director, Dermot McKeone.

"Once clients have agreed what their communication objectives are, we have teams of evaluators who will track media coverage and score each message as to its effectiveness in meeting the objectives," says McKeone. …