Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Measuring the Impact of Public Relations

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

Measuring the Impact of Public Relations

Article excerpt

New Electronic Research Methods Improve Campaign Evaluation

Using research, practitioners can meet the growing need to justify the cost of public relations and prove results. Ground-breaking techniques to manage issues and analyze attitudes are being developed. The key is to make research part of planning a campaign strategy.

The latest technological advances, computer software programs and other state-of-the-art applications in public relations research and evaluation have added a vital twist to the age-old media clip book. Because research information has never been so accessible to public relations firms and corporate clients alike, venerable techniques such as article content analysis, phone and mail surveys, focus groups and before-and-after attitude studies are being looked at in a new light. The days of mainly clipping articles for the decision maker to review are gone.

Purveyors of research services have taken public relations campaign results to the "nth" degree by introducing on-line, personalized information systems, issues management to take the pulse of the public, and charting tools to help calculate the most cost-effective marketing mix. Inquiry management services can even account for the number of leads that come in via a public relations campaign, including how much is spent on each inquiry and how many leads turn into actual sales.

Several new types of research and evaluation techniques are in their infant stages. Before integrating them into everyday practice, public relations researchers are testing the waters on factor analysis and linking attitudes to behavior. Measuring "active versus passive" attitudes, and focusing on those interested in a message is another new frontier in attitude research, according to Lloyd Curbin, Ph.D., director of research for Burson-Marsteller in New York City.

A growing climate of accountability has emphasized the need to use these and other research evaluation techniques. Most of the experts interviewed stressed that defining strategic objectives and supporting them with research from the onset can help clients determine whether they actually achieved their return on investment (ROI).

"Basically, you can't do evaluations unless you set goals and objectives in advance of your content analysis," said Dr. Walter K. Lindenmann, APR, senior vice president and director of research for Ketchum Public Relations in New York City. "For example, if this year you did a survey where 50% of the respondents were familiar with your company, next year, you should plan to reach 60%. That is a measurable goal."

To set measurable objectives, many practitioners are now strongly suggesting the inclusion of research as part of a campaign's overall strategy from the outset. This is good news for suppliers of research and evaluation counsel and services. In the past, they have often been overlooked until the last minute, when research would be incorporated into a campaign if there was enough time, money and management interest.

Overabundance of data

Until about five years ago, the over-abundance of research data culled from campaigns could not be effectively tabulated and easily implemented by clients. But new computer technologies have changed that pattern. "In the old days, data was filed away in clip books, files and databases that weren't doing anyone any good," said Katharine D. Paine, president of The Delahaye Group, in Hampton Falls, NH. "We wanted to transform that information into an on-line interactive database from which clients could continually draw conclusions."

The Delahaye/Desktop|TM~ software package allows Delahaye clients to easily retrieve data about their programs at their own desktop computers. They can then chart and tabulate that data to spot trends, identify areas of opportunity or problems and summarize results. The user's own database thus becomes an interactive front end to Delahaye's comprehensive press coverage analysis service. …

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