PR Takes Measure Of Its Effectiveness

Public relations measurement has always been an imprecise science. But new tools such as Edelman Public Relations’ Relationship Index, launched last month, are emerging as alternatives to older—and some say outdated—methods such as advertising equivalency and press-clipping tallies.

Increasingly, the focus is on “outcomes” (sales results or increased awareness spurred by PR) over “outputs” (the sheer number of articles or media placements). “While they are both critical factors, outcomes measure the long-term effects of a public relations program,” said Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of Public Relations Firms in New York.

“Public relations really has found a home in enhancing the quality of relationships between brands and their publics,” said Jennifer Scott, Ph.D., general manager of StrategyOne in New York. But mounting pressure from clients with limited budgets makes the quest for better measurement more imperative, industry executives say. With more companies focusing on in-depth analysis of the effect of PR programs, the once gold standard measurement practice of ad equivilency—giving an article the same dollar value as an ad in a paper or magazine regardless of whether the story is positive or negative—may be fading into the background.

Independent Edelman’s Relationship Index, developed with sister research firm StrategyOne, supports the Relationship Imperative philosophy Edelman developed last year to help clients build trust and understanding among a cross-section of constituencies.

The index builds on the work of James Grunig, Ph.D., a PR professor at the University of Maryland, who argued in a 1999 report for measuring relationships across four key components—trust, commitment, satisfaction and control mutuality (the degree to which each party feels some control over the relationship)—to determine the value of PR work. The index evaluates Edelman clients and tracks how their relationships with consumers and other constituencies—shareholders, employees, the media, analysts and academics—are being managed.

The index evaluates those relationships based on about 20 yes/no questions focusing on Grunig’s four components, such as whether respondents feel an organization listens carefully to their needs, treats people fairly, keeps its promises, and gives them a say in the decision making process.

The issue of trust is particularly relevant in light of recent corporate scandals. In a survey of 300 consumers done last year by Interpublic Group’s Golin/Harris International, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they believe there is a crisis of trust in American business.

Prior to developing the index, Edelman relied on traditional protocols such as media analysis, online and media placement, tracking and focus-group research. The challenge, Scott said, was to find a method that could be applied to all client situations. With its general nature, the Relationship Index does just that, she said.

Omnicom’s Fleishman-Hillard’s tool of choice, known as R.E.A.D. (Reputation, Equity, Assessment and Direction), also eschews traditional measurement tools. It uses techniques such as survey and analysis to “tell where [an organization] stands with each of its key stakeholder audiences,” according to Lisa Richter, svp, senior partner and director of knowledge solutions at Fleishman’s St. Louis headquarters. “We don’t really look at ad equivilency as a way to measure the impact of PR, because advertising has different objectives than PR.”

Using R.E.A.D. to help determine public perceptions of Wal-Mart, for instance, Fleishman determined there “has been some confusion about the range of job opportunities” the retail giant has to offer, according to Richter. Subsequent PR and ad campaigns highlighted employment opportunities at Wal-Mart.

“In these times of slashed budgets, you don’t get a lot of credibility by saying, ‘I got a lot of clips.’ You need hard data to see what is working and what’s not,” said Katie Paine, chair of the Institute for Public Relations’ Commission on Measurement.

Havas’ Magnet Communications, a unit of Arnold’s agency network, uses a system that monitors five factors: reach, frequency, content analysis, target penetration and balance of coverage. “When you take into account those five metrics and what a client’s objective is, we have a way to monitor and measure if the content is resonating,” said John Isaf, svp, general manager of Magnet’s Boston office, which recently used its measurement program for Ameritrade.

WPP’s Hill & Knowlton uses a variety of tools, including Web traffic study and focus groups, according to U.S. president and CEO MaryLee Sachs. She agreed it is critical “that we get better at measurement of PR. I think it’s driving credibility among marketers. … They are skeptical about what PR can deliver.”

Earlier this year, WPP’s Ogilvy PR introduced MediaDex, a Web-based media tracking tool that measures and evaluates brand perceptions across thousands of media sources. “More and more, our clients are looking for more proof in return on investment,” said Jeffrey Leopold, vp of external relations at Ogilvy PR in New York.

Manning Selvage & Lee’s measurement tool, i to i, was used to track the agency’s PR campaign for the European launch of Microsoft’s Xbox game console from March through December 2002. Microsoft sold more than 1 million Xboxes in Europe during that period. Paul Fox, head of European PR for Xbox, said, “MS&L’s [job] was to ensure the PR communications maximized all our [marketing] initiatives. i to i tracker was used to prove just that.”