Many a celeb turns to PR at some point, but agencies need PR services to determine how successful their campaigns have been.
What do Cliff Richard, Bandai yo-yos, the England and Wales Cricket Board and General Pinochet have in common? They've all used public relations agencies or lobbyists this year to work on their behalf.
All had very different objectives. Sir Cliff hired Marke Borkowski Press and Public Relations because he wanted to widen his appeal and appear more hip; Bandai hired The Wright Partnership to promote its new yo-yo brand; the ECB hired Westminster Strategy because it wanted to change the status of English Test cricket as a listed sport, which had to appear on terrestrial TV; and Pinochet turned to PR consultant Patrick Robertson to try to counter hostile media coverage during his enforced stay in the UK. So how have they fared?
Sir Cliff is back in the top ten and appearing on Top of the Pops; the yo-yos were in almost every national newspaper and sales were 300% above target; the cricket was delisted and a deal has been done with Channel 4, and some newspapers, notably The Telegraph and The Times have been calling for Pinochet to be allowed to return to Chile.
The tricky part of the equation is proving how much the PR campaign and agency was responsible for achieving those objectives. PR, like every other marketing service, is being asked to do more to prove its value and show effectiveness.
Arguments that PR is difficult to measure, while true, are increasingly untenable. Pressure on budgets is such that few clients are ready to sink large sums of money into PR campaigns without having mechanisms in place to judge the effectiveness of that expenditure.
This is where PR services companies come in. Many are evolving into full-blown media evaluation agencies, providing detailed analysis of PR campaigns and offering services ranging from press cuttings to broadcast monitoring.
Marketing's sister title, PR Week, has been working hard to push evaluation centre stage. In February this year the magazine launched its 'Proof' campaign and championed it all year. This aims to encourage clients, consultancies and in-house practitioners to dedicate 10% of their overall PR budget to formal pre-planning research and the evaluation of results.
PR, heal thine own image
The initiative has galvanised the industry. Leading players are co-operating as never before, because they can see that fine-tuning and increased usage of research and evaluation are probably the only ways they will ever convince sceptics and cynics that, properly employed, PR is a marketing tool every bit as powerful as any other.
To this end, the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) has established an evaluation taskforce and is working closely with the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) on the issue. Other bodies such as the Association of Media Evaluation Companies (AMEC) and the Public Relations Standards Council (which is exploring the possibility of establishing a quality kitemark for PR effectiveness) are also giving their input to the debate to ensure as wide a consensus as possible.
The intention is for the PRCA and IPR to jointly publish a set of research and evaluation guidelines in May 1999. These have been referred to as a best practice "tool kit".
"Adopting a set of evaluation mechanisms which are credible, affordable, straightforward and, above all, fitted to the task in hand, is the single biggest challenge facing the PR community today," says PRCA chairman Adrian Wheeler.
"It is also our biggest single opportunity," he adds. "Evaluation is the rocky but sunlit pathway for PR practitioners to climb, once and for all, out of the quicksand where our work is judged by instinct, gut-feel and intuition."
The handbook will try to tackle every sort of evaluation problem. It will not provide a single solution: there are thought to be at least 50 different ways of evaluating PR campaigns. …