The PR industry has evolved over the years and focus is gradually shifting from “what used to matter” to “what now matters”. A clear example is the gradual shift from measuring only outputs of communications activities to focusing more on measuring outcomes and outtakes of a campaign. Public Relations is now more of 'what' and 'how' have you contributed to achieving the organisation's overall corporate goals and less of 'how many news materials did you get published or aired?’ This emerging trend reinforces the need to pinpoint PR's contributions to the business by setting clear and measurable communications objectives in alignment with overall corporate drive of the organisation.
PR campaigns are usually targeted at specific audiences, thus objectives for campaigns vary depending on what the brand wants to achieve. Programmes may be designed to create, elevate or sustain awareness for a product, service or policy; to induce behavioural changes in specific audience groups; support Sales/Marketing team to drive sales; influence government/regulatory agencies to adjust a particular policy and so on.
Irrespective of the goals of a campaign, critical questions to zero in on by Communications Managers during and after a campaign/programme should be: What value does the campaign add to the business? What is the current awareness level in comparison to previous level before the campaign? Does the programme provide a lead for other departments such as Sales/Marketing to explore? Is there a positive shift in net promoter score? How does the brand stand on TOMA level compared to previous stance amongst competing brands? Is there a market share increase resulting from the campaign? Answers to these questions lie in evaluative research.
Meanwhile, brands and agencies still resort to measuring public relations efforts using the controversial and long outdated Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE) technique, which compares PR to Advertising and then applies multipliers on a scale of three to four on the ground that PR is at least three to four times more credible than Advertising. I have always been against the use of AVE-generated PR value. However, AVE metric is not the only problem of PR measurement. It is just one of several irrelevant metrics employed by practitioners. Measurement challenges go beyond the issues of AVEs.
The challenges start from the point where communications objectives are designed. A significant number of PR objectives are not SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, realistic or results-focused and time-bound) thus, difficult to measure. I have seen campaign objectives like: “…to increase awareness for product A”; “…to generate media coverage”, and so on. An objective such as “…to create awareness for product A” is almost impossible to measure.
To measure such objective, one needs to know:
- Level of awareness for product A prior to the campaign
- Segment of the audience the brand intends to increase awareness for product A
- Specific increase in awareness the brand hopes to achieve for product A and the timeframe within which the brand intends to achieve specified increase in awareness.
- Seeking answers to the above questions enhances clear evaluation of the objective. A SMART version of “…to increase awareness for product A” could be: “...to increase awareness for product A among retail dealers by 7% over a nine-month period”. The latter objective is clearer and easier to measure because it is clear on target audience, specific in target result and has a timeframe during which it hopes to achieve the desired result.
Basically, PR measurement revolves around four key aspects: inputs, outputs, outtakes and outcomes. More often than not, campaign deliverables are set in relation to news mentions. Measurement goes beyond achieving set targets for news mentions (stories and photo news) in print, electronic and new media platforms. Now the issue is: how sure are you that your audience read, recalled and understood your messages? Supposing they did, did the messages reinforce or change their attitude and perception about the brand? What percentage change in attitude/behaviour does the campaign effect in the audience? Is there a positive shift in net promoter score resulting from the PR campaign?
Though, PR Managers sometimes conduct formative researches, especially before flagship campaigns to gain formative insights into a planned campaign during input stage, including a chance to actually control the message they intend to communicate. Input variables focus on message design in terms of content, brand keywords, message alignment, accuracy of facts and message endorsement by executives of the organisation. Outtakes measurement focuses on level of awareness, message comprehension and retention by target audience, audience engagement and active advocates.
The Barcelona Principles 2.0 reinforces the need to measure communications outcomes. Principle 2 of the seven-principle framework states: '’measuring communication outcomes is recommended versus only measuring outputs’'. The impact of PR efforts cannot be effectively gauged by measuring only mass media messages and channels, but by adopting a holistic approach that covers all aspects of the measurement cycle where evaluative research plays a dominant role. Brands and agencies still focus more on measuring outputs with little or zero interest in the areas where the real value of PR lies (outcomes and outtakes).
Several factors may be responsible for the end results of a campaign: behavioural changes in target audience, lead generation, increase in market share, change in perception, increase in both aided and unaided awareness, favourable level of message comprehension, recall and retention, rise in stocks value and PE (Price-Earnings) ratio, positive shift in net promoter score and many more outcomes. You would not know the factors responsible for these outcomes unless you probe the target groups which the campaign was aimed at. Only evaluative research can reveal the factors that accounted for such results with empirical evidence.
As management continues to demand empirical evidence from PR/Corporate Communications Managers to back up their claims of “successful campaigns”, PR Managers will tend to see and embrace evaluative research as a viable way to earn the respect they truly deserve from management.
Article written by:
BrandImpact Consulting Limited