Since its emergence in the 60s, the public relations profession has
been debating fiercely how it should measure up. It is a debate that has
been given added urgency by the increasing emphasis that clients place
PR’s apparent inability to agree on a set formula for evaluating its
effectiveness has arguably been one of the greatest obstacles to gaining
a seat alongside advertising or direct marketing at marketing’s top
But now there are signs that broad agreement is emerging. So, can
marketing directors and in-house communications staff breathe a sigh of
relief that their PR investment will soon be more easily measured? Or is
this another false dawn?
The industry is hailing as a breakthrough an initiative sparked off at a
conference in Frankfurt late last year. The workshop on evaluation - a
get-together of the International Committee of Public Relations
Consultancies Associations (ICO) - brought together evaluators and PR
practitioners from the UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and
Sweden for the first time. An international ’task force’ is now
developing minimum standards and a common language for evaluators.
To this end, evaluation specialists, such as Carma, Infopress and Media
Measurement are pooling resources to publish a definitive guide to
evaluation and a clients’ guide to setting objectives. This will include
a standard consultancy briefing form to help clients and their PR
consultants agree reasonable objectives.
The task force’s findings will be presented as a ’white paper’ to the
ICO/IPRA meeting at the time of the PR World Congress in Helsinki in
The first stage of this white paper will be an international guidance
paper on media evaluation compiled by the UK evaluation industry’s new
trade body, the Association of Media Evaluation Companies (AMEC).
Founder member of AMEC and managing director of Infopress
Communications, Dermot McKeone, says: ’Although a number of evaluation
companies have been meeting informally for some years, this is the first
time we have met regularly, and the relationship is working well.’
The association’s chairman, Carma’s Sandra MacLeod, agrees that progress
is being made. ’We have already circulated AMEC’s guidance paper and are
now getting feedback from other countries.’
So what is driving this new-found resolve to work together? These, after
all, are fierce commercial rivals, selling competing technologies and
McKeone believes it is the overall growth of the evaluation industry,
which in turn comes from a growing demand from PR agencies and clients
to measure the effectiveness of public relations.
’Companies have gradually been moving to the quality standards, such as
ISO 9000, and there has been a noticeable measurement ethic within
industry. There has also been a growing demand for accountability in the
public sector,’ says McKeone.
’The greatest demand over the past ten years has been from clients.
While consultancies are keener on justification - quantifying their own
benefits in the short term - clients want to know how their image stacks
up in the longer term.’
John McAngus, media relations manager at Anglian Water Group, argues:
’The European initiative is a big step forward. The PR industry has got
away with providing little accountability for many years.’ He hopes it
will bring two main benefits: ’A standardised evaluation system would be
a good tool for organisations. It would also bring a level of integrity
to an industry that has often been too instinctive rather than
His only concern is whether standardisation will raise or lower the
quality of evaluation. ’There are some good evaluation companies and
some less good ones,’ he explains. ’This is a good idea as long as it
doesn’t mean levelling down.’
Quentin Bell, chairman of the Quentin Bell Organisation, has more
serious concerns. This long-standing campaigner for standardised
evaluation doubts whether marketing directors are really going to see
tangible benefits from the initiative. ’People in PR are good at
complicating things rather than simplifying them. It could end up as a
talking shop,’ says Bell.
For some time Bell has been working with Raymond Wilson, corporate
affairs director of Norwich Union, and Peter Crowe of the Institute of
Public Relations’ marketing communications committee, to bring in a
basic measure for the coverage generated by media relations.
In conjunction with some evaluation companies, the working party came up
with a common unit of measurement called the media relations point
(MRP), which is designed to dovetail with advertising’s use of the gross
rating point (GRP) and the television rating point (TVR).
But Bell says this work has not been taken on board by the ICO
initiative because it has been misunderstood. Indeed, at the workshop
ICO president Peter Hehir described the PR points as ’PR pointless’.
’We recognise the idea has its faults and doesn’t look at editorial
content,’ says Bell. ’It would nevertheless focus clients’ minds on
evaluation, particularly those who don’t use evaluation at all.’
The Norwich Union’s Wilson agrees: ’I am looking for a planning tool for
campaigns. I discuss advertising, sponsorship and PR budgets with my
finance director and when it comes to measuring PR I find I am putting
my finger in the air.’
Wilson wants a single measurement criterion for media analysis, but is
worried about the difficulty in attaining European agreement. For this
reason he supports the MRP as a step in the right direction.
However, it seems some in-house people have different priorities. Lesley
Allman, external communications manager at Bass Brewers, agrees there
has been a trend in the 90s towards measurability. PR has had to improve
in this area to compete with other marketing disciplines. ’We now use
advanced evaluation of media relations, but this only measures a small
part of our activity,’ she says.
Allman says it is often difficult to compare like with like and that
media relations, sponsorship and staff communications all have different
objectives and therefore different evaluation systems. ’You can only use
the same measurement criteria if objectives are the same,’ he says.
Dr Tom Watson, managing director of Hallmark Public Relations in
Winchester, has a PhD in PR evaluation and wrote a paper for the ICO
workshop. He says: ’Marketing people are better educated in research
techniques than almost anyone and they should recognise the need for
diversity rather than simplification.
’What Quentin Bell is suggesting is a transitional stage in the
Marketing directors are not the only people who need to understand PR
evaluation. Their board colleagues will want to know what figures really
mean. With simple numerical equivalents you are comparing apples with
oranges and it’s a dead end.’
Carma’s McLeod agrees. Clients get different things out of analysis
because their concerns are different, she believes. But McLeod also
seems keen to build bridges. ’Quentin Bell’s objectives are sound and we
are trying to get our minds round whether the media relations point can
be a form of measurement, but I’m doubtful as to whether there can ever
be a standard.’
Progress is slow and difficult, admits Chris McDowell, executive
director of the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). He
thinks the UK industry should get its act together first, but recognises
that the initiative may be pushed forward more internationally. ’The
PRCA does not necessarily support any single group. At the end of the
day we must have something that everyone understands and this means
being client driven,’ he says.
Assuming that basic guidelines can be agreed in Helsinki, what will
happen next? Dr Watson says that the aim is to create awareness of the
breadth of research techniques available. ’I don’t believe one technique
will come out on top. It’s about best practice rather than a narrow
The key, he believes, is helping marketing directors who have spent
money on PR to evaluate whether they are really meeting their
objectives. ’A client may say ’I want to be in the Financial Times’, but
the question is ’Why?’. Sometimes the idea of who they are actually
trying to influence may go out of the window.’
McLeod agrees that the evaluation industry needs to concentrate on
objective-setting. She argues that client/agency objectives are not
always measurable - in fact they can be fairly woolly. ’Setting
realistic objectives for PR is a pre-cursor of accountability. It is
also a step towards understanding the power of strategic communications
on the bottom line.’