Strategic Communications Part 2: Public Relations not easy to quantify

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By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed evaluating grassroots organizing and GOTV efforts based on their quantifiable results.  The efficacy of these methods of strategic communications is relatively easy to measure due to the ability to analyze them using a randomized experimental design.  While grassroots advocacy is absolutely essential for any land use campaign, most projects also require some type of public relations effort.  Unfortunately, public relations are not so easy to quantify.

There is no question that public relations provide value.  However, quantifying that value can be challenging.  To determine the preferred method of measurement utilized by the public relations industry, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) conducted the Global Survey of Communications Measurement in 2009.  This study, which surveyed public relations professionals worldwide, found that while measurement is growing in the industry, there is still a lack of consensus regarding how return on investment (ROI) should be measured.

Specifically, the study found that PR professionals judged success based on the ability to place material in the media more than the impact of such coverage.  That is, there was more of an emphasis on outputs over outcomes, though there is evidence this is changing.  For instance, the main criteria for measuring effectiveness were hitting the target media, followed by message output and being on time/budget.  Ranking third was measuring awareness/image, client satisfaction and achievement of goals.  In addition, the survey found that the most popular measurement tool was press clippings, followed by internal reviews, AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalent) and benchmarking.  Various forms of opinion polls and focus groups are also popular tools.

Along with the lack of agreement on how best to evaluate ROI, the biggest impediments to measurement remain cost and time.  Nevertheless, even in the absence of measurement, perhaps public relations’ greatest asset is its ability to establish credibility.  Though bias can exist in any organization, having a third party vet and report on a subject typically provides an added level of legitimacy.  This is especially true if a media outlet editorializes on an issue.  In fact, press clippings and pull quotes from positive press coverage are often used as a means of building credibility and pushing an organization’s message out to the public.

So, even if you don’t have the resources to measure your public relations efforts, their ability to provide credibility make them an invaluable tool in most any type of campaign.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone (781) 749-7290 , 7701

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