Evaluating PR efforts for enhanced impact

As a public relations practitioner, do you commit resources to evaluating your campaigns as much as you do to planning them? Or perhaps, the question should be if you even think about evaluation when planning your PR efforts. PR campaign evaluation is an essential activity which, unfortunately, some practitioners downplay, while others employ unreliable and commonplace methods.

Let me recount an experience. I handle knowledge-sharing sessions for some young PR aficionados. In one of those sessions, I asked a question: ‘How do you measure the results of a PR campaign?’ Everyone chorused, ‘it’s very simple’, and one zestfully responded: ‘Just count the number of print and broadcast mentions’. I wasn’t shocked, because that understanding is rife amongst PR practitioners, and it also reflects how parochially people view PR. My mentee’s answer above is deficient in two ways. First, he didn’t factor ‘quality’ of mentions. He focused on the ‘quantity’ as though that’s all that matters. Second, press mentions do not convincingly prove the impact of a campaign- sometimes, it may just be vanity media publicity.

We devote so much resources to planning and executing a PR campaign to create value for the brand. Now, having invested this much effort, you then adopt an inaccurate approach to evaluate the campaign, or even fail to evaluate. How do you justify the spend? How do you show that the objective has been met? By showing clippings of publication to your CEO? Alex Singleton, in ‘The PR Masterclass, writes: “Funders of PR campaigns just can’t tell from a cuttings book if the coverage is genuinely achieving business goals, or merely acting as a vanity exercise”. It’s challenging to measure PR. But whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well. Why initiate a campaign if you won’t measure it? I’ve also observed that some practitioners use the Advertising Value Equivalency, AVE, to measure PR. This is absurd, because PR is not advertising. You don’t try to quantify PR value using an advertising-inclined approach. According to Singleton: “The AVE calculates what the column inches would have cost to buy as advertising. It is a problematic method because an advert says exactly what you want it to say, whereas editorial does not”.

Let me tell you about the PR Process. It’s exemplified by the RPCE Model. R-esearch; P-lanning; C-ommunication; and E-valuation. This model highlights that PR campaigns should end with evaluation to know whether you’ve met the KPIs. This evaluation, to be taken seriously by your CEO or client, should go beyond clip-cutting and compiling off-air dubs from broadcast houses. It should incorporate some research. PR starts with research and should end with some form of research, however heuristic.

Let’s learn to give the evaluation phase more thought and rigour, with qualitative and quantitative metrics. I’ve practiced PR at both agency and corporate levels. I know what obtains in terms of measurement. PR practitioners should understand that contemporary corporate settings are becoming ‘mathocratic’ and as such, CEOs/MDs are interested in data, results, not newspaper clippings. Don’t misconstrue me- clippings are good. But they’re not end in themselves. Practitioners need to demonstrate how media coverage has helped to bolster the profile of the company. Don’t forget that much of what we do as reputation managers is to shape perception and engender supportive behaviour from our stakeholders.

Clip-cutting, for instance, can hardly tell you if there’s been a perception shift amongst your stakeholders, from negative to positive. The number of off-air dubs cannot prove that a hitherto unfavourable attitude from a given stakeholder group has become favourable consequent upon your PR efforts. You can’t ascertain how your PR campaign changed a hostile stakeholder behaviour to friendly behaviour by merely counting press clippings. The clippings are releases or features you got published. But did they actually achieve their objectives? That’s a question a research-oriented approach, like a survey, will answer. Walker Sands PR in its article on measuring PR results, writes: “Research is paramount to tracking a PR campaign’s success. Before starting your PR campaign, survey your markets to see if they’ve heard of your brand and offerings. After launching your PR strategy, survey your markets again to check whether awareness statistics are trending up”.

If your objective is to raise brand awareness among your target audience, evidence of media coverage can give you a snapshot of message reach. But it doesn’t reliably tell you if your target audience are now actually aware of the brand. You need some research for this. Objectives differ from campaign to campaign. Assuming you wanted to drown the negative conversations about your brand online as occasioned by a happenstance, you don’t necessarily need a survey to know the outcome of the campaign. Through social listening, you can tell whether the mentions are becoming positive or not. Taking stock of what the mainstream media are reporting offline also helps you gauge the nature of mentions about your brand. A sentiment analysis of these mentions will provide further insight. Marta, Content Manager, Brand24, affirms: “A high volume of mentions and positive sentiment is a sign of success. It not only means people are spreading the news about you, it also means they are happy about your message or activity”. Mention, Meltwater and Talkwalker are trusted tools for social listening and online media brand monitoring.

A key digital asset of your company is its website. It’s invaluable for measuring PR efforts. Thus, it’s important you note the average traffic on your website before kicking off the campaign, so you can compare it with the metrics as your campaign gathers momentum. Google Analytics is available for this. An increase in traffic during the period of the campaign shows that your efforts are paying off. It’s vital to track this traffic and the leads being generated by it. Sales stats are also crucial when measuring campaigns. Though it’s not the primary job of PR to increase sales, your funder expects it to contribute to the bottom line over time. Pratik Dholakiya, founder of PR Mention, posits: “While PR may not give an instant boost to sales, it will certainly show some change. In fact, a well-executed digital PR campaign can generate significant sales over time”.

Social media are now standard components of PR campaigns. Their results are easy to measure. Each platform automatically produces an insight report for every campaign, showing reach, engagement, impressions and other key metrics which enable you draw an informed conclusion. Similarly, if your campaign involves Search Engine Marketing, Google compiles a report indicating performance. Also, you can include a ‘how did you hear about us’ form on the check-out page of your website as applicable to your brand. For digital PR, it’s easier to evaluate our efforts.
It’s abundantly advised to always measure your PR campaigns, as you can’t improve any action if you don’t measure the results. Counting press clippings is not misplaced but think beyond it and be more thorough in your evaluation. Evaluating your campaigns enables you perpetuate your worth as a PR professional and justify your funder’s funds.

Written by Stanley Olisa, a media and communication consultant in Lagos.


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