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Return on investment (ROI) and measurement of a PR campaign has always been a hot topic in our industry in Australia. It was also one of the topics discussed at the annual Public Relations Network (PRN) Conference I attended in New York City last June.

There was consent among Conference attendees that clients are increasingly asking for our work to be evaluated against measurable outcomes, which has become a real challenge for PR agencies because PR is about reputation building and reputation is difficult to be measured quantitatively.

One of the possible quantitative measures of PR that has been debated for decades is the equivalent advertising cost. This topic was discussed at the PRN Conference and members agreed that offering equivalent advertising value to evaluate media coverage devalues the work of public relations practitioners because:

  1. Editorial has much more credibility and therefore value than advertising
  2. A good PR program includes many more tactics than just media coverage

This being said, some Conference attendees admitted offering equivalent advertising cost simply because it is a trend in their country and clients are requesting them.

Here in Australia, there's been a strong movement in the past 5 years against measuring media coverage with its equivalent advertising cost. In fact, the latest Registered Consultancy Group's agencies survey indicated that about 90 per cent of PR agencies use media coverage relevancy, communication of key messages and client satisfaction as measures of success while only a third of RCG members uses equivalent advertising cost.

As PR practitioner Harald Simons referred to in an article, 'the concept of measurement is often confused with counting'. In reality, the starting point in measuring the success of PR efforts is to look at the achievement of pre-determined objectives and their associated activities. And while this can sometimes include quantifiable measures, they are more often than not qualitative in the PR world of 'awareness', 'visibility' and 'reputation'.

This ROI debate will most likely persist for a very long time in the PR industry and will adapt as new PR tools are introduced. We have actually noticed in the past year or so a new debate: ROI of an online public relations campaign. But we'll leave this topic for another article...

Kim Larochelle (@kimlarochelle)