Measuring PR effectiveness is as complex as measuring management effectiveness. Nevertheless, it is self-evident that such measurement is necessary, as clients are interested and often required to confirm the rationality of their PR budgets.
Research into the effectiveness of PR belongs to the field of evaluation, which offers methodologies that examine program activities using the standard model of general systems analysis. That is, one examines the separate components of a PR program: input-transformation-output.
In the opinion of the Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation of the Institute for Public Relations (United States) there is no one, simple, all-encompassing technique that can be relied on to measure and evaluate PR effectiveness. The Commission's "Guidelines for Measuring the Effectiveness of PR Programs and Activities" recommend using one or more of the following methods:
analysis of internet publications;
research on the effectiveness of trade show and other corporate events;
research using experimental design and quasi-experimental design and their methods in the form of surveys and polling, focus groups, role playing and so on.
The process recommended by the Commission on PR Measurement for evaluating a PR program has five parts:
1. Setting Specific Measurable PR Goals and Objectives;
2. Measuring PR Outputs (short-term results, for example, media reporting on an event);
3. Measuring PR Outtakes (target group awareness after the PR program is completed);
4. Measuring PR Outcomes (changes in public opinion);
5. Measuring Business and/or Organizational Outcomes.
In practice simpler models are frequently used, based on the number of print media articles reported, relating PR activity to sales and using the Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) method. The AVE method takes all the media reports generated by PR activity and calculates their "equivalent" cost as if they had been placed as ads, and then compares the imputed costs to the cost of the PR activities.
AVE (ratio) = cost of placing similar advertisement / cost of PR campaign.
This method remains in common use by many firms in the world and some Ukrainian firms. But its limitation is evident. Advertising and PR are two different marketing instruments: advertising messages in the media are controlled and referenced to those who commission them, while PR messages appearing in the media are not controlled or referenced, and as a result, have more credibility with their intended audiences. Building conclusions based solely on AVE has questionable value, particularly since it is impossible to purchase much of the print space and media time generated by good PR (for example, TV news reports).
Example: PR Programme "Combating Counterfeits"
Context: 3 PR events - an opening press conference, a "round table", a final press conference.
Advertising Value Equivalent (ratio): total - 1,98-4,93, depend on whether direct expenses are included; opening press conference - 0,70-1,27; "round table" - 4,32-6,32; final press conference - 1,06-1,86.
Comments: the opening press conference generated the greatest number of news articles reported. The number of articles generated by the "round table" was the smallest, although there were 2 major analytical articles in publications where the cost of advertising was high. The final press conference was well reported in the print media and on television and radio where advertisement costs more.
Conclusion: The AVE method does not permit object measurement of effectiveness of individual PR events and does not provide a basis for comparison.
The proportion of contracts that call for measurement of PR effectiveness has been very small.
The PR market is not yet ready to pay for such activity, which takes 10-15% of the total budget. Nevertheless, many companies that allocate sizeable budgets for PR have recognized the need for measuring its effectiveness. In doing so, it is important to follow a few basic principles.
Measure PR in relation to other elements of corporate strategy
Measuring PR effectiveness and evaluation cannot be conducted in isolation from other strategic initiative of a company. That is why it is necessary to set measurable objectives that are in agreement with the general goals of the business, as well as clearly specify the target audience and key messages that need to be communicated and the information channels to be used.
Thoroughly examine cause-effect relations
Linking PR efforts to sales or profits needs to be done with care. It is difficult to say whether PR efforts alone or other factors contributed to the results achieved. Examining the impact on sales of a PR event requires, at least, an examination of the impact in the context of year on year longitudinal trends in the industry, as well as various analytical adjustments related to other corporate initiatives.
Measure PR influence in context
Any specific method of evaluating PR effectiveness in and of itself will have a low level of reliability. Well-grounded measurement programs should be focused on both short- and long-term PR impacts. In addition to trying to determine the direct impact on sales, is also necessary to determine the degree of impact the PR activities have had on public opinion and on the overall performance of the company. For example, one can determine the Return on (PR) Investments (ROI), which shows the relation between PR efforts and business results.
Recognise measurement of PR effectiveness as an indispensable part of a PR campaign
Measuring the results and effectiveness of PR efforts are important to both PR specialists and their clients. The existence of an evaluation component enhances the quality of PR services on the one hand, and the quality of management decisions on the other. It is therefore necessary to include the time and expense for research on measuring effectiveness in PR budgets.