Managing what they measure

THE FIELD of public relations often pertains to spheres such as perception and the subconscious, which are impossible to grasp and objectively measure.

THE FIELD of public relations often pertains to spheres such as perception and the subconscious, which are impossible to grasp and objectively measure.

Despite the fact that quantifiable outcomes are difficult to identify, PR is a business and as such its effectiveness must be measured. Otherwise, a company that pays for PR services would not know if it had made a reasonable investment in a particular campaign, or if it had just wasted its money.

To be able to better plan campaigns in the future PR agencies themselves also need to know if their activities brought the desired results.

Štefan Vadocz, managing partner of Neopublic Porter Novelli, emphasized that clients request an evaluation of the success of campaigns.

"It is a standard part of PR agency services and at the same time confirmation of the level of investment into communications activities," Vadocz told The Slovak Spectator.

Based on the evaluation it is possible to plan further steps and modify communication strategies towards the target groups, Vadocz said. The evaluation is the key factor in strategic planning.

"In fact, we assess each campaign. The evaluation is not just a matter of the client requesting it but also useful feedback for our work," said Miriam Mádrová, account director of Omnipublic.

The need to measure a campaign's effectiveness is clear but things get difficult when it comes to methodology. Methods for evaluating a PR campaign vary and choosing the best one is a real art.

"In management we say: We do not manage what we do not measure. At the beginning of a campaign or cooperation with a client we pay great attention to clearly identifying what and how much we want to improve.

"Later we define the tools through which we can measure results during and at the end of a project," Michaela Benedigová, managing director of Interel Public Relations explained.

She thinks it is necessary to listen to clients and through discussion arrive at precise and realistic expectations. It is important to identify the starting position and then to be able to measure any changes reached after a campaign has finished.

Vadocz of Neopublic Porter Novelli gave some examples of possible ways of measuring the success of PR activities.

If a client wants to get more publicity, for example, then the agency assesses the quality and quantity of media coverage, with more importance given to the quality.

Should a client be looking for support for its message from the public, with the aim, for example, of gaining votes, then the agency evaluates the support for that policy.

There are numerous other criteria that can be used when calculating the effectiveness of campaigns: the number of calls on customer service lines within a certain time limit, the amount of hits on a particular website, how many coupons are sent in as part of a campaign, just to take three examples.

Other methods include public opinion polls before and after a campaign and comparing sales results before and after a campaign.

"Of course, when evaluating PR activities, we need to abstract from other parts of the marketing mix. Today, even this is possible. However, not all the clients are willing to spend a part of their PR budgets on such an evaluation," Vadocz of Neopublic Porter Novelli said.

PR professionals agree that the main criterion when assessing the success of a PR campaign or activity is the satisfaction of the client. A client is satisfied when he considers the goals of the campaign to have been fulfilled.

Financial institutions that own banks or are active in private banking, for example, are not interested in great visibility with the public, Vadocz explained. A minimum of news and no negative coverage in the media, and the continuous trust of their business partners, all of which it is possible to measure through a survey, represent successful PR activities for them.

On the other hand, a pharmaceutical firm would consider success to be increasing the sales of its medicine at the expense of its rivals; an IT firm would consider more people contemplating buying a computer as success, while a company preparing to take over another company would consider success to be retaining the customers of the acquired company and not losing them to the competition.

"Setting realistic goals is the key. Then both parties - the agency and the client - are content. If, for example, a client thinks that a press conference is a success if 30 journalists come, we have to tell him at the beginning that this is not something that a PR agency can always influence. The number of journalists depends not only on the attractiveness of the topic, but on many other things impossible to predict in advance. Finally, a large number of journalists does not always bring great publicity," Mádrová from Omnipublic said.

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