Techniques to evaluate how well a PR campaign is working have evolved considerably since the days of measuring column inches of cuttings. Sharper instruments are now on offer, honed by PR consultancies and specialists bureaus, under pressure from clients.
But availability has not meant general adoption. Research routinely accompanies advertising but purse-strings for PR are more tightly drawn.
Nevertheless, a small industry of media evaluation specialists has emerged. Charges relate to complexity, volume and frequency. A one-off low-volume project can be under 500 [pounds]; intricate and high volume tracking across all media could exceed 100,000 [pounds] a year.
A pioneer in this sector is Paul Georgiou's Impacon, in business since 1985. His clients are foreign governments and such major corporations as BT, British Gas, Shell and Cellnet. For BT, 16 reports are produced a month, for study and action by the corporate relations and market research departments.
At competitor CARMA (Computer-Aided Research And Media Analysis) International, European managing director Sandra Macleod explains: "We track what the media is saying about our clients, their competitors, the issues in the market. We look for trends, strengths and weaknesses. PR and communications should not only be the mouthpiece of an organisation but the ears too."
Media Measurement managing director David Phillips says: "Good companies are looking not just to evaluate their PR but how they appear competitively in reach and delivery of messages, how publications and individual journalists treat them and how they can manage their communications more effectively. It can be a tremendous management and marketing tool."
Nicholas Grant, managing director of Media Track, pours scorn on systems which are simply quantitative. "That's Mickey Mouse stuff," he scoffs. "We have 15 or more criteria which our evaluators apply."
According to Dermot McKeone, managing director of a fifth specialist in the area, Infopress Communications' Impact service, a problem is that few corporate budgets have a niche for media evaluation. "Business plans should have an allocation for this, just as they do for marketing research," he suggests.
PR consultancies claim various in-house facilities for the measurement of their work and some employ the specialists on behalf of clients.
Angela Green, chairman of PR consultancy Green Moon, remarks: "We have worked with some of our clients in devising systems to isolate the effects generated by the PR programme. But often a PR budget will not run to doing full pre-and post-campaign research. If an outside evaluation organisation is involved, I would expect the client to commit to that spend."
Burson-Marsteller director Jane Ferguson comments that: "Just about every programme we do has some measurement built in. With in-depth analysis, cost can be a consideration. Some clients still just count column inches."
Major clients such as Asda and Coca-Cola call for detailed studies, sometimes in conjunction with a specialist bureau, notes Samantha Royston, managing director of Lynne Franks PR. …