Evaluation should be a proactive, forward-looking process of continuous systematic gathering of information used to plan future activities more effectively.
Effective evaluation strategies are developed at the onset of the communication process to identify potential problems, opportunities, needs, or omissions before implementing an expensive campaign.
Evaluation methods can be classified in two different ways:
Closed System evaluations focus on messages and events and their effects on intended publics. They rely on pre-testing messages and media, and then comparing these to post-test results to see if activities achieved planned effects.
Open System evaluations recognize that factors outside the control of the public relations campaign influence results and look at wider considerations. This method considers public relations in overall organizational effectiveness.
These methods are also broken down into two research methods:
Quantitative Research is concerned with numerical data of public relations where computer programs are used to look for common themes. Examples: Number of press releases, radio air time, geographic distribution, etc.
Qualitative Research is concerned with collecting random data and looking for emerging and common themes. Examples: Pre/Post Testing, product and service awareness, etc.
Purpose of Evaluation
The most critical reason for evaluating public relations campaigns is to measure a company’s return-on-investment (ROI). Public relations campaign evaluations are also performed to:
! Determine accountability
! Demonstrate value of communications expenditure
! Assess or establish a baseline
! Assess goals or objectives
! Determine event or program outcomes
! Improve quality
! Ascertain success or failure
! Determine future direction
! Comply with external standards
Evaluation as a PR Marketing tool
Evaluation is a tool to plan, reduce waste, improve effectiveness, and save money by monitoring and testing inputs, outputs and outcomes in a continuous, integrated process from the earliest stages of planning, using a range of formal and informal methods.
Evaluation tools used in measuring effective PR:
Secondary Data: Gathered from sources other than primary research. It uncovers statistics that are already available and complied by others regarding similar results of activities.
Case Studies: Ascertains the effects of other organizations on the specific strategies of your public relations program. Used as accountability tools to monitor best practices and to establish Key Performance Indicators for each stage of the campaign so that PR activities support management strategies and expectations.
Audience and Reader Surveys: These response tracking surveys allow benchmarking (what effect do campaign vehicle strategies modify/change perceptions/behavior in targeted publics).
Focus Groups: These informal, small groups of selected participants can pre-test ideas.
Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE): Calculates the AVE to space or time. Editorial and advertising value are not equal. Editorial is often more credible than advertising because it appears as an independent objective comment. However, it can contain criticism, refer to competitors, and contain errors of fact or messages. So it is important to craft messages carefully. (A 300% value on editorial over advertising is often used as the rule of thumb basis for this practice.)
Media Monitoring: Evaluates media placement. If your messages are not printed verbatim as you submit, disadvantages of this method include:
! Do not show quality of coverage.
! Negative or neutral coverage included with positive coverage.
! Coverage in unimportant/low circulation media.
! “Passing mention” or competitors mentioned.
! Articles discuss peripheral issues or key messages not included.
Media Content Analysis: Computer-aided median content analysis systems produce numeric data, charts and graphs and evaluation qualitative criteria such as whether media coverage reaches key target audience, whether it focuses on the main issues and whether it contains the organization’s messages. It can also measure share of voice compared with competitors and identify and track issues.
“The practice of evaluation involves the systematic evaluation of information to reduce uncertainties, improve effectiveness and make decisions with regard to what programs, personnel, or products are doing and effecting.” Michael Patton, Practical Evaluation, Sage Publications, 1982.
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