Traditionally, small businesses have shied away from putting the tools in place to effectively gauge their public relations
In practical terms this involves activities such as sending press releases or articles to the media, interviews, or communicating with clients or potential clients through newsletters, seminars and the media.
Perceived obstacles to measuring public relations are many and varied – a lack of understanding of public relations, too little time for implementing measurement techniques, a lack of understanding of the role of public relations and insufficient resources.
Most organisations wouldn’t dream about employing people without a defined purpose - employees often know what is expected of them before they start the job and what targets they will be assessed against. It’s worth taking the same view of public relations. The question should not be whether you can afford to measure your public relations activity, but whether you can afford not to.
The importance of measuring public relations
Understanding the impact of good and bad communication is vital to small businesses. Measuring PR contributes to planning - hence techniques for assessment need to be in place before the start of a public relations campaign, not after.
Measurement enables you to check on return on investment and assess whether your messages are reaching target audiences. This information can then help concentrate your efforts – saving you both time and money.
Commonly, measurement techniques are concerned with outputs - the number of column inches the story gained, how many pieces of coverage, number of publications carrying the story, broadcast time of company stories, exposure (gained by adding up readership, viewer or listener figures) and the cost of comparative coverage through advertising.
This is your first step and several companies provide expert advice to assess these activities. A listing of members of the Association of Media Evaluation Companies can be found at www.amec.org.uk.
The next step in measurement is to assess the ‘impact’ of what you have done. How can you expect to improve on what you are doing unless you are learning what works and what doesn’t? For small firms there are simple techniques that can be used to measure the value for money and success of public relations campaigns.
Simple perception surveys enable you to benchmark awareness amongst key audiences. For example, this could include asking a sample of your key prospects questions about their perception of your organisation and its services/products and then repeating this exercise at various points of your public relations activity.
Expense is probably the excuse most commonly used to avoid putting public relations measurements in place. It is important to remember the many benefits associated with using effective measurement – and that simple tools need not be costly.
Organisations are concerned with making and saving money and, in short, that is what measuring PR can enable you to do. It can make your communication more efficient – targeting the right people with the right message and building credibility. Measurement techniques allow you to be confident that your public relations support is helping you to achieve these goals and that money is being well spent.
Largely, the problem is that public relations is not tied into business objectives – communicators are not viewed as being part of the management team.
Lack of support from key management is often cited as a reason why measurement is not given the importance it perhaps should. For small businesses, it’s worth remembering that effective public relations measurement can be a significant competitive advantage.
Written by Debbie Leven
Account Director, The Answer Ltd.