Evaluation is arguably the most important step of an entire PR campaign, yet it is often the last to be considered. PR professionals can spend months or even years slaving away over concepts and executions, but when it comes down to the evaluation of their work it can easily be overlooked. By keeping a few simple steps in mind, the seemingly impossible task of measuring ROI in PR can become a little more attainable.
So what really is the ROI in the realm of PR?
ROI, or return on investment, can be viewed in many different lights, but Jeremy Porter, VP of Strategy for blacQube says, “Before you can effectively measure the results or return on investment (ROI) of you[r] public relations programs, you have to know what you’re measuring” (2011). ROI seems to be an undefined term used in PR that once was rooted in finance and accounting. The important thing to remember is that PR doesn’t always have to be so focused on a specific number or a financial statement, but rather the overall impact. When evaluation is centered on finances alone, the essence of the original campaign goal can be lost.
Most PR professionals agree that it’s more effective to spend time making sure that objectives are S.M.A.R.T from the start, a handy acronym meaning specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time based, instead of simply worrying about the ROI (Porter, 2011). By evaluating realistic campaign goals, PR practitioners can demonstrate the value of their work. Does this mean that ROI should be completely ignored in PR? No, not necessarily. However, PR should always strive to advocate and champion for evaluation that takes a diverse perspective and macro approach to understanding the impacts and affects of each and every person involved.
Jackie Malloy, research strategist for GM Communications spoke at a PR News’ conference in Washington, D.C. where she said, “While there are a lot of PR measures that I track, I also know that ROI is not a measure I can do. Why? Because it is impossible for me to link every GM sale to what it was that influenced a person to ultimately purchase a vehicle” (Davis, 2013). Now obviously PR professionals can’t completely ignore ROI or finances because the world runs on money, but Malloy emphasizes that there are other much more effective tools of PR measurement. Two of the alternatives she discusses in her speech are setting benchmarks and using the Barcelona Principles as valuable tools of measurement (Davis, 2013). While most people tend to ignore evaluation until the end, it is essential to keep it at the top of mind throughout the entire process. By taking note of where you start in a campaign, it’s much easier to review objectives and see growth as an end result.
In the world of PR, it can often be difficult to see tangible results right away. Author Joel Goldstein notes,”The issue in many instances is that it is often difficult to isolate the impact created by public relations from other initiatives, such as advertising, direct mail or sales calls” (1992). Instead of becoming discouraged, the evaluation process should focus on improving and becoming more effective for future goals. By focusing on the created opportunities of a campaign, the campaign gains infinite value.
The key is to remember that PR is so much more than an ROI; it’s a changed opinion, a vote cast, a policy changed, and a new product bought. Although specific and measurable goals are important, it’s also important to be flexible when thinking about the overall impact and affect a campaign has on publics because without a way to measure effectiveness or impact, the hours of work poured into a campaign are meaningless.
Davis, L. (2013, May 21). Why ROI is Often a Useless Metric for PR Professionals. PR News. Retrieved from http://www.prnewsonline.com/why-roi-is-often-a-useless-metric-for-pr-professionals/
Goldstein, J. (1992, June). Is there ROI behind PR? Potentials in Marketing, 25(5), 35+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=ITOF&sw=w&u=lom_gvalleysu&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA12261474&sid=summon&asid=17f3388078fe045d5c5f0a1e4d7cfeda
Grupp, R. (2010). The Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles. Institute for Public Relations. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/the-barcelona-declaration-of-research-principles/
Porter, J. (2011, February 9). Get S.M.A.R.T. When Setting PR Objectives. Journalistics. Retrieved from http://blog.journalistics.com/2011/get-smart-when-setting-pr-objective/