Magazine article Marketing

Weighing Up the Evaluators

Magazine article Marketing

Weighing Up the Evaluators

Article excerpt

Marketing wanted to put PR evaluation to the test. So we asked a panel of experts to propose a project to some of the leading schemes. Louella Miles assesses the results

The problem with PR evaluation companies is not necessarily the prices they charge - they might even represent value for money. It's one of attitude. This cropped up again and again when Marketing took four of the leading companies in this sector through a dummy pitch, gave them a brief and asked a panel to judge the results.

"The sad thing is that all of them have the technological capability, but they have decided the way to do their job is not evaluation but measurement," says one of our panel members, a media relations manager from a blue-chip company, who wished to remain anonymous because of his own involvement in buying evaluation services.

"The problem I have is that there is a lot of press coverage and I need to analyse and evaluate to improve what I'm doing. Evaluation companies tend to get to the first stage only, taking the coverage and reducing it to figures. It's like taking a piece of music and digitizing it, but then you can't hear it."

The four companies we chose (and their brands) are Carma International (Carma), MA Management Services (Mantra), Infopress Communications (Impact) and Computerised Media Services (Precis).

To give them a juicy piece of work to get their teeth into and an area on which there is a lot of data publicly available, we placed the fictional client in financial services. We gave them its turnover, marketing budget, customer base, key marketing and PR objectives and key messages.

They were asked for an understanding of the company's marketing aims, feedback on how to use them in establishing priorities for evaluation, how the company would go about the evaluation process and an idea of the cost - all in as few pages as possible.

The companies were allowed to submit brochures as back-up, as well as real or dummy case studies to show how such projects had been dealt with in the past. The client was interested in a retrospective of 1995 and the costs for such an exercise before moving on to the first quarter of 1996. It would expect to sign a contract for one to two years after a three-month trial.

All the evaluation companies responded within a couple of days, as they might do in a pitch situation. What was hoped for was a questioning attitude to the brief, but in the event, the only queries concerned the attached capability questionnaire.

While some made a stab at listing items for evaluation, the majority were keen to get into discussion straightaway to discuss the marketing objectives. Only Impact was keen enough to ask for a copy of the marketing strategy and PR programme for 1995 prior to any meeting.

As more than one of the panel commented: "We would have tried to put ourselves in the client's shoes and done some research on this area." Sadly, this was not an option taken up.

They did not have an easy task, as Chris McLaughlin, media consultant to TWI and Larkspur, explains: "Evaluation of PR campaigns is almost as difficult as deciding which half of the client's advertising money is being wasted. It's easier to know what's the good or bad PR of the moment than it is to judge a sustained campaign.

"Overall, there is a need for measurement and I would tend to shy away from systems which ascribe values to key words and column inches. The quantitative approach is attractive and the graphs can be eye-catching, but much depends on the inputted values. None of the measurement systems is entirely value neutral."

The panel was asked to rate the companies on the following:

* Their understanding of marketing objectives

* Integrating these in response to the brief

* Initiative

* Value for money

* Clarity of response, which would go hand in hand with not submerging clients with hefty reports and graphs

* Technical capability

* Their responses to the capability sheet itself. …

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