From time to time we’re asked “How do we know we’re getting value for money from our public relations program?”.
Success is easily claimed but not always easily proved – especially for a low budget campaign where there’s no allocation for research-driven evaluation.
However, there are reliable indicators that show a program is working and adding value. Purists may not always rate them, but they give client satisfaction.
Any assessment always depends on having a properly constructed strategy with defined aims and messages.
The terms “outputs and outcomes” have been around for a while in evaluation and are still useful in looking at results. Outputs are fully completed activities in the program like blogs posted, media releases distributed, events organised, presentations and the like. Outcomes are the changes and influence in areas such as opinion, understanding, attitude or knowledge and increased reputation and profile resulting from the outputs.
A critical indicator for us is cut through with messages. When clients say they have company descriptions repeated back to them at business meetings, they know the program is working.
Someone saying, “Jones Asset Management, isn’t that the fund manager that has performed well with alternative investments?” is an example of cut through in understanding. It also means that any sales pitch by the company is going to be easier as it doesn’t start with “Jones Asset Management? Never heard of them”.
Clients tell us of increased new business enquiries following media coverage. That’s the best indication of success there is.
Advertising value equivalent
Even though they are not liked in the public relations profession, are over-simplistic and don’t take everything into account, costing editorial coverage and other content using advertising rates (and sometimes multiples) can be a useful indicator. There are a number of formulas now that include factors like position in media, positive content, and audience reached. It’s not a bad thing to put some sort of dollar value on coverage using AVEs as one indicator. If there’s no value in media coverage, why do marketing departments continue to invest in paid content? Earned content must be more influential.
While having clauses in agreements like “the consultancy will distribute one media release a month” are more restrictive than productive, clients should look for agreed aims at the outset and expect regular reports on what has been achieved, including outputs like media releases distributed, coverage gained, blogs written and placed, and increases in social media followers. Look out for consultancy reports that spend more time in justifying themselves than showing what has been achieved.
Value is outcomes
The real value of communication programs is in the outcomes achieved. While true measurement might require research not every client wants to pay for, there are other ways. Desktop surveys and omnibus surveys can help. But when you get down to it, practitioners themselves, and who they work for, know when they are doing a good job.