Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

Evaluating PR

Effective PR is both more credible and more cost effective than advertising, and in relation to this it’s important to note that PR and advertising have different roles. When evaluating PR, some organisations compare the press and media coverage achieved with the equivalent cost to the organisation of achieving that coverage through advertising.

The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

George Bernard Shaw

The measurement of PR depends on the objectives which have been set, and it’s helpful for an organisation to think about evaluation before objectives have been set. At this stage, research can be carried out and benchmarks put in place, and it’s worth noting that there are a number of ways in which to evaluate PR, aside from Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE). For example, PR designed to drive people to a website to access particular information may be measured, not just in terms of coverage but the impact of that coverage, as measured by the number of people going to the website and accessing the information. This, of course, may not be definitive, but it is possible to design an activity where only PR is used to raise awareness, so giving a good indication of effectiveness. Having said that, PR is usually more effective when it is part of an integrated programme.

In practice, the PR department or your PR adviser will probably use, and combine, a number of methods to evaluate PR. The means employed will also depend on budget, but, in general, a PR department might consider any number of techniques, depending on objectives and activity:

  • Survey of key groups – surveying perceptions before and after PR to assess change
  • Website monitoring – matched against PR activity, as mentioned previously
  • Attendance at events – if PR is linked to raising awareness of an event
  • Tracking where sales leads come from is also a useful way to identify the impact of PR
  • Key messages – the extent to which key messages, identified as part of the PR activity, are conveyed in press and media coverage (this is called key message penetration)
  • Circulation – figures available for the number of copies sold of a publication
  • Readership – it is estimated that up to three people will read a single publication, so the readership figure is calculated by taking the circulation figure and multiplying it by 2.5 to 3
  • Opportunities to see – this is calculated by adding up the readership of each piece of coverage (for instance, if two articles appear in one edition of a publication with a readership of 100,000, then the ‘opportunities to see’ is calculated as 100,000 x 2).

There are many other techniques that might be employed: audience reach and frequency, competitor analysis, opinion polls, focus groups. These are much more complex and expensive. There are a number of companies which specialise in evaluation of PR, using a range of analytical tools and metrics. The biggest impact PR can have is a change in behaviour, but this can be difficult to monitor and will, typically, need to be assessed over a longer time period. The problem is in isolating the impact of PR compared to other activity.